Irelandís Unfinished Revolution
Book Review by Sean OíDriscoll
1972, by Morgan Llywelyn
Published By Forge
Morgan Llywelyn is one of those writers who sells huge amounts of books with little critical notice. With 1972, she finishes the fourth and final novel in her exhaustively researched collection on modern Ireland.
Itís an ambitious project for a writer much better known for her massive works on ancient Ireland, sometimes derided as overblown drama by critics.
When she wrote about Fionn MacCool or Brian Boru, there was little by which the modern reader could assess the authenticity of her research. With her new work, the scale of her work becomes apparent.
This is the first historic novel Iíve read in a long time that comes with footnotes. Hundreds of them, detailing everything from where Ian Paisley made his speeches to the meaning of Gaelic phrases spoken by the characters.
Her strength comes from her extraordinary ability to place the story in the surrounding politics of the time. Here, scenes or riots and murder in Northern Ireland parallel the rise of Beatlemania and the fortunes of the Kennedy family.
In this work, which follows on from 1916, 1921 and 1949, Llywelyn explores the life of an IRA member struggling to find his place in a rapidly changing world. He takes up journalism, he falls in love with an American singer, and all the time he watches the political situation explode in Northern Ireland.
Llywelynís grasp of Northern Ireland history is superb, and the immediacy of her writing is extremely gripping. I found it curious that my heart raced as she described the building political tension and found myself disappointed when she returned to the life of her novelís hero, Barry Halloran.
It made me wonder why she doesnít just abandon the novel formula altogether and go straight into historical research. Many readers will not know, for example, that Northern Ireland Nationalists cleared out housing estates to prepare some sleeping quarters for Irish soldiers they expected would invade from the south.
That incursion never came, even after the Irish prime ministerís famous speech in which he warned that the south would not stand idly by and watch the failures of the Northern Ireland government lead to worsening violence.
But they did stand idly by, and Llywelyn convincingly describes the bitter disappointment and the worsening violence that would culminate in Bloody Sunday in 1972.
This ambitious series proves that Llywelyn is not some naive outsider writing romantic historical novels about Irelandís bloody political past. Her research is accomplished, her narrative style is gripping. I just wish somebody would take her aside and convince her that she is a great non-fiction writer.
There is often a joke among journalists that you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Llywelyn needs to realize that she should never let a story get in the way of a great truth.