Jack Mckeever's Reviews > Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
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it was amazing

If you've never read a book about the Troubles before, start with this one. Beginning with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in December 1972 - she was accused of being a police informant by the IRA, and one of many so accused who came to be known as 'the Disappeared' - Radden Keefe explores the forty-year conflict in much of its murkiness, misery, darkness and crucially, emphasises the impact of memory that scars more than one nation.

A self-described piece of 'narrative non-fiction' rather than investigative journalism, Radden Keefe presents the reality garnered from four years of extensive research in thrilling, novel-esque fashion. None of the details or quotes are manipulated or dramatised in any way, but the flow and style of his prose reflect the sense of constantly shape-shifting, horrible motion that the Troubles imposed.

And it helps to hammer home the sense of palpable human tragedy and continuing trauma from the conflict. In a recent article for the Publishing Post, I wrote about how historical accounts and documentaries about the Troubles often completely overlook the lives of everyday, ordinary people. All of the main subjects in this book - former IRA bomber and member of the notorious 'Unknowns' unit Dolours Price, former commander of the Belfast IRA D-Division and hunger striker Brendan Hughes, and the McConville children - are massive players in the conflict's history. But whether by honing in on the regrets of Price and Hughes, or relaying the haunting sadness of the McConville children's entire lives, Radden Keefe presents thoroughly human experiences in a way stats and constant death toll updates never can.

An important emphasis in the book is how the 1998 Good Friday Agreement focused on the future, and neglected the impact of the past. Since the Brexit referendum has seen tensions heat up fiercely again with some tragic consequences, it's clear that no matter how long peace is maintained in Northern Ireland, the ghosts of its previous life may always hold some kind of sway. Whether a unified Ireland - not now inconceivable - would heal any of the wounds remains to be seen. But the progress the nation has made since the late '90s can't be for nothing; there's plenty of hope there too.

Radden Keefe's book makes no judgements, and yet reveals and explores a huge amount. It focuses on some aspects rather than others - it revolves largely around the McConville story and its protagonists, and barely mentions loyalist terrorism, for example. But its scope and woven narrative is unlike anything I've read before in political reporting. To date, it's the best book on the Troubles I've read. And I've read a lot.
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Reading Progress

August 20, 2020 – Started Reading
August 20, 2020 – Shelved
September 2, 2020 – Finished Reading

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