February's Feature

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Glenn Patterson's

The International; a novel of Belfast

McClelland & Stewart, $21.00

Reviewed by Pat


I first read this novel in 2001, although I didn’t remember until I got about a third of the way through it.  I can put it down to age and the amount of books I have read in the past decade or the glut of books I am ordering in a single season, but it is probably the first rather than the others.  It was the wonderful prose and intimacy of character that suddenly struck me as familiar.  Such a strong sense of place and time that I started to think I have been here before.  And I was.  Nice to know my taste still holds.

Ireland’s political problems have been written about in great detail.  But it is the smaller, more pivotal events that catch my eye.  The Declaration of the Civil Rights Movement in Belfast in January of 1967 is one of them.  Patterson may have brought it into focus in his novel, but it is the day leading up to it – a day like any other when sectarianism was taking a back seat to the average “danny boy’s” life.  And our Danny Boy is wonderful incarnation; a nineteen year old bar staffer who fell into his current position; both working the bar and his newly expanding sexual horizons.

Patterson makes you feel like you are sitting in the Blue Bar, listening to the stories, and watching the punters.  From the regulars who move in and out of your life with gossip and quiet tragedy – to the slowly building extremism seeping into the background of people’s everyday lives.  But there is still a wry and resigned humour that filters through events.  Our narrator, Danny views his world with a perspective honed on keen observation and a compassionate intelligence that exemplifies the pragmatism of his country and his time.

This is a great story that has classic written all over it.  If I couldn’t tell that ten years ago, I can say it now.  This book is a thoughtful entertainment in the face of the “loudly” observed St. Patrick’s Day.

But no mind, Slainte and raise your Guinness anyway!