Sunday, March 15, 2009

Michael Parker's "Northern Irish Literature 1956-2006": Book Review.

Here's my in-depth review of Professor Parker's two-volume literary history, with emphasis on both terms, for "Estudios Irlandeses" 4 (2009): 139-42. Link: "Issue 4".

Go to the Issues Tab, select #4, open David Pierce's fine overview "The Year in Irish Studies," and eventually scrolling down through reviews, you'll find mine. It's two-thousand words, but Parker's paired volumes deserve every one of the maximum that I was allotted. They comprise a valuable contribution to scholarship, aspire to a wider audience than critics or scholars, and merit a place on your shelf if you share my interest in Irish reactions to the Troubles, in their recent manifestations. (I pasted my entire review here on Amazon US & my other blog, "Not the L.A. Times Book Review," if that's easier, but I still want you to visit ES 4!)

Need I add that last week's murders represent atavistic, futile reversions to past brutality? You think that 2006 marks a neat closure to the Troubles, ten years away, but the news calls your bluff. As my Irish friend directed me, I append to today's entry an epitaph on the return to violence from Kate Carroll, the widow of the first officer to be slain since the formation of the PSNI. He was gunned down in a republican stronghold in Craigavon by members of the Continuity IRA.

Constable Stephen Carroll, a veteran nearing retirement from the force, living in Banbridge, was about my age-- he would have witnessed the sectarian strife, and he would have watched its ebb. Pc. Carroll chose what earlier in his life nearly all Northern nationalists would have condemned as traitorous: to join those perceived his denominational side's natural enemies.

What I find intriguing: Carroll was an English-born Catholic who served for twenty-four years, so most of his stint was within the RUC, those clannish predecessors who hired or tolerated few who were not Protestant. He must have had his reasons for entering the force at the height of the violence, donning the badge of a Royal Ulster Constabulary accustomed to arrest so many of his "own." One of "them" in faith yet English, living a long time in the Republic but working across its border. He may have made many enemies. He was shot in the back of the head as he sat in his patrol car. Two are in custody as gunmen: a 37-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy.

For all its faults (republicans eagerly tripped up their first steps in 2001), the PSNI tries to keep peace in the Six Counties. Both republicans and unionists have had to adjust to this new balance of negotiated power. Sinn Féin will for the first time appear at the funeral of a NI police officer. Neither side may yet be entirely at ease, but for the past few years, nobody's lost their life who's served with the reconstituted police force.

Those few opposing a cessation to physical force executed him, as their RIRA comrades did two sappers in their early twenties a week ago. They were picking up a pizza delivered to their Antrim barracks. These were the first killings of British security forces in over a decade. Sixty bullets were fired; two deliverers, one Polish, were wounded. How many Irish want to lapse back into such petty savagery?

Now, three more rest next to three thousand bodies. They bear mute testimony to the pain that has wracked so many in the province for so long. Under the "imprint of history," literature can try to express such emotion, professors and psychiatrists, priests and police can tally its impacts, but these all offer only echoes. Words fade before the loss and sorrow of death among those who must live on in silence.

To his killers [Mrs. Carroll] said: "I hope these people are listening and if they just realised that we only get one chance at life and a piece of land is a piece of land and at the end of the day my husband is just going to get 6ft by 6ft and that's all any of us are going to get and why don't they realise this and talk to each other."

Quoted in the 13 March 2009 Irish Times. News Feed on the Carroll murder.

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