One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter…, February 20, 2011
By janebbooks (Jacksonville, FL USA) – This review is from: The Ghosts of Belfast (Hardcover)
A Guardian newspaper reviewer calls Stuart Neville’s debut novel THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST the best fictionalized representation of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a future classic of its time.
Other reviewers relate the plot of the novel: An IRA killer, one Gerry Fegan, is released from twelve years in Maze Prison early following the Good Friday Belfast Agreement of 1998. Fegan is haunted, day and night, by ghosts of twelve people he killed, who silently lead him to the people who ordered their execution. Five soldiers, a policeman, two Loyalists and four civilians–including a baby in a mother’s arms. One by one, and often two or three, Fegan submits to their demands for acts of revenge and killings and the specters disappear.
Although Neville skillfully deals with the political reality and cynicism in the new Northern Ireland by boldly exposing post-ceasefire Belfast as a confused and contradictory place, he gives his readers a profoundly sad protagonist. Fegan recalls the last time he held his father’s hands “the coarse and bony feel of them, the hardness and the warmth, long fingers stained orange by nicotine.” He was nine years old and it was the day of his father’s funeral. And he relates other boyhood scars:
“He remembered the raids, the cops and the Brits breaking down doors. They pulled young men
out of their beds to imprison them without trial at Long Kesh, the old RAF base that would
later become the Maze, or on the prison ship at Belfast Docks. He remembered the anger, the
hate, the poverty and the unemployment. The only way to have anything, to be anything, was
to fight. Get the Brits out…take freedom at gunpoint.” (83)
Thirty-six years later another younger, perhaps wiser man explains to Fegan that times have changed.
“…people won’t tolerate violence like they used to. Then 9/11 came along. The Americans don’t
look at armed struggle the same way. Used to be we could sell them the romance of it, call
ourselves freedom fighters, and they loved it. The money just rolled in, all those Irish-American
digging in their pockets for the old country. They don’t buy it anymore. We’ve got peace now whether
we like it or not.” (97)
Is Gerry Fegan a terrorist, a killer, plain and simple? Or is he a freedom fighter with a guilty conscience?
Read every word of this intense and violent story. These are Neville’s questions without an answer.