War and peace: 10 for the Twelfth
On the eve of the peak of Northern Ireland’s marching season, we review titles that explore the legacy of the Troubles
A bonfire on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the night before the Twelfth of July. Photograoh: Niall Carson/PA
The Twelfth Day of July
Joan Lingard (1970)
A writer of both adult and children’s books, Lingard is best known for her young adult series Kevin and Sadie. The Twelfth Day of July is the first book in the series and focuses on the lives and relationships of Protestant siblings, Sadie and Tommy, and their Catholic counterparts, Kevin and Brede. Scottish author Lingard grew up in Belfast and she uses a burgeoning romance between the titular teenage heroes to explore the tense landscape of the Troubles.
Leon Uris (1976)
The "terrible beauty" of Ireland is at the heart of Leon Uris’s Trinity, a saga of Catholic and Protestant families set against the backdrop of historical events ranging from the Great Famine to the 1916 Rising. The Larkin and O’Neill clans are Catholic hill farmers from the fictional Donegal town of Ballyutogue. The Protestant MacLeods are Belfast ship workers. Spreading the narrative from Donegal to Belfast and Derry, Uris’s epic follows hero Conor Larkin and his best friend Seamus as they react to the plight of their countrymen under British rule. A portrait of a country divided by class, faith and prejudice.
Shadows on our Skin
Jennifer Johnston (1977)
Loneliness, loss and damaged relationships are perennials of Jennifer Johnston’s writing and Joe Logan, the protagonist of her Booker-shortlisted novel, suffers from all three. A shy and intelligent Derry teenager who puts up with the demands of an embittered war veteran father, Joe seeks solace in the friendship of a young female school teacher. The ever present military backdrop to Joe’s world is brought to the foreground when his older brother returns from London with a gun and a host of secrets.
Bernard MacLaverty (1983)
The eponymous narrator of MacLaverty’s novel drives the getaway car following the murder of a reserve police officer. Dealing with the repercussions of his actions while living in a sectarian, predominantly Protestant town near Belfast, Cal falls in love with the young widow of the murdered police officer. A compelling and insightful exploration of the internal demons and long-term psychological effects left on individuals caught up in the Troubles.
Eoin McNamee (1994)
Eoin McNamee’s debut novel takes place on the dangerous streets of 1970s Belfast. Victor Kelly is the eponymous antihero, a violent and ruthless killer whose story stems from the crimes of a real-life Ulster loyalist gang, the Shankill Butchers. Cruising the streets looking for prey, Kelly’s sinister curb crawling mirrors the sectarian reality where gang members picked up victims according to the streets where they lived. McNamee also wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film version starring Stuart Townsend, John Hannah and Brenda Fricker.
Running with the Reservoir Pups
Colin Bateman (2003)
The first in a trilogy of young adult novels by the Bangor author Colin Bateman, Reservoir Pups follows teenager Eddie Malone as he moves with his mother to a famously rough part of Belfast after his father walks out on the family. Reluctant at first to get involved with his new neighbours and their violent pursuits, Eddie eventually joins his local gang, the Reservoir Pups, and then sets about scuppering their various nefarious plans.
Garbhan Downey (2007)
A comic look at the dirty world of Irish politics, Running Mates sees Derry-born gangster Harry the Hurler campaigning for an upcoming election after the ceasefire puts an end to his other activities. Double dealing, fast talking and a host of shady characters romp around Harry’s world. An interesting blend of comedy and tragedy that lampoons corruption in a post-war society.
The Truth Commissioner
David Park (2008)
The rhetoric of peace is scrutinised in David Park’s The Truth Commissioner, an absorbing read set in an imagined future where the concept of truth is rarely pure and simple. A sprawling narrative focuses on four main characters, and the book questions the possibilities of truth and justice in the wake of violent histories. From the newly appointed Truth Commissioner Henry Stanfield, to former Republican Francis Gilroy, to Danny and his partner planning for the arrival of their first child in America, the interlinked lives of Park’s characters teeter on the edge of truth and reconciliation.
Stuart Neville (2009)
An acclaimed fictional representation of the Troubles, Stuart Neville’s debut novel tells the story of a former Republican gunman who is haunted by his victims. The 12souls of the title torment Gerry Fegan, demanding vengeance for their deaths. As his hunt for the instigators threatens to destabilise the peace process, a hitman is sent to silence Gerry. A cat and mouse thriller that exposes dark secrets about the aftermath of war.
I Hear the Sirens in the Street
Adrian McKinty (2013)
What was a former US soldier doing in Northern Ireland in the midst of the 1982 Troubles and why has his torso turned up in a suitcase? The second book in McKinty’s Sean Duffy detective series takes a hindsight view of the Troubles. A tattoo on the victim’s body leads DI Duffy to America but the suitcase brings him back to a Northern Irish farm where the owner was murdered by the IRA.