Murder and memory in the North: narrative non-fiction journalism at its best
Browser review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted; How Suicide Haunts Our Species; Rules of the Road
Jean McConville (L) pictrued with three of her children shortly before she disappeared in 1972. Photograph: Pacemaker
A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Patrick Radden Keefe
William Collins, £20
Patrick Radden Keefe impressively weaves the abduction and murder of Jean McConville by the IRA in 1972 and its impact on her family, alongside the lives of IRA members Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes. Also stepping into the narrative, as you’d expect, are the significant figures of Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and the British state, as the author traces the gestation of a bloody conflict that eventually bore the sanitised seal, the Troubles. Other strands, such as the Boston tapes and searches for the missing are stitched into a well-structured account. A staff writer at The New Yorker, Radden Keefe is forensic in his writing and research (as the book’s notes section shows). He also draws degrees of humanity on faces from Northern Ireland’s shadowy recent past (even finding moments of noirish humour, flavoured with that distinctive Ulster strain). This all might leave a reader unsure in their footing, but that is welcome. Narrative non-fiction journalism is at its best (think News of a Kidnapping) when it shows us there are no absolutes, no black and whites, but many shades in between.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted
Faber & Faber, £8.99
John Hope lives on a farm in Hometown, Victoria and makes a series of poor decisions regarding his love life which often leave him abandoned and bewildered. Although the bookshop of the broken hearted serves as the meeting place for John and his second wife, Hannah, there is little mention of the bookshop throughout the novel. Hillman writes beautiful pastoral descriptions and witty dialogue, although these take a back seat to the increasingly far-fetched plot.
The book offers insight into rural life in Australia, along with a brief description of Jewish history during the second World War and occasional reflections on grief. It is difficult to fully empathise with the main characters – John lacks backbone, Trudy - his first wife - is unpredictable and his second wife Hannah becomes a token of European culture in the eyes of the Australians.
At its best, the book is a homage to the emotional toil we endure for those we love with a smattering of comments on the importance of literature. A quick, rainy-day read.
A Very Human Ending: How Suicide Haunts Our Species
Combining personal testimony, research, cultural studies and his own training as a developmental psychologist, Jesse Bering’s latest book is concerned with a subject perhaps even more taboo than his previous works, which have become renowned for their exploration of ‘deviant’ sexualities. Paradoxically, considering its subject matter (suicide), Bering’s prose, his range of reference and his quick humour makes this a gentle read, though the topics covered are often harrowing. Infused with his own experience of suicidal thought, Bering’s book explores the persistence of the ideation - the way triggers can morph over time, adapting but not always disappearing. Treating suicide as an epidemic – a million people a year take their own lives, translating to roughly one person every 40 seconds – A Very Human Ending casts its net wide, moving from fin-de-siècle French literature to cutting-edge scientific studies to unpick a vast web of information and misinformation alike. A necessary contribution to the demystification of a subject still under discussed, Bering’s book is wise, warm and sure to encourage conversation.
Rules of the Road
Harper Collins, €12.99
Terry is worried about her best friend, Iris. It’s her 58th birthday and she is missing. Breaking into her friend’s house, Terry finds an envelope addressed to herself and is devastated to learn that her friend intends to end her own life. Iris has progressive MS and has booked into a clinic in Switzerland. Panicking, Terry packs her father – who suffers with dementia – into the car, managing to locate Iris as she is about to board a ferry at Dublin Port. Refusing to let her travel alone, Terry and her father join Iris on her road trip across Europe (not an easy task, with an elderly man who is in a permanent state of confusion, a seriously ill woman who can barely walk and a driver who is afraid of motorways).
Geraghty combines sadness with humour, handling the delicate balance very cleverly. MS and dementia are both addressed in a gentle way, allowing for a lighter read, with the power of friendship and love leading the narrative. A delightful mix of characters and a wonderfully warm read.