Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Review: The Ghosts of Belfast

So Ryan gave me this book called The Ghosts of Belfast for Christmas (or maybe it was Ryan and Jamie. I'm not sure. It's all community property in their household, anyway, so I'll say it was from Ryan and Jamie).
The book has won The Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a whole lot of favorable reviews, but, to be honest, when I read the synopsis on the book jacket, I was a little skeptical. The book was described as the story of a former IRA footsoldier, Gerry Fegan, who is haunted and tormented by the souls of the people that he has killed during his years of paramilitary action. At first glance, I wasn't exactly sure that the blending of IRA intrigue with supernatural horror was something that I could get into.
In practice, however, the book worked pretty well. The ghost/haunting aspect seemed as much psychological as supernatural (the mileage of the reader may vary a bit on this point), and the main themes of the book relied more upon a very realistic depiction of life in modern Northern Ireland as opposed to being a simple story about ghosts. In fact, I think that the book's title probably has as much or more to do with the recent history of violence that Northern Ireland is struggling to overcome as it does with the literal ghosts that haunt Fegan. (although those literal ghosts, of course, are a powerful symbol of the psychic scars that are probably carried by many in Belfast and other parts of the country).
The novel has a sort of gritty, authentic feel, delving into the underground world of Northern Ireland, where shady politicians, organized crime figures, dirty cops, and former IRA freedom fighters/soldiers/terrorists all overlap and intermingle as they struggle to advance their competing interests. It's a strange world, where politically delicate international peace treaties can be put at risk by the isolated actions of individual gangsters and where former blood enemies are expected put away their guns and bombs and live side by side with people who were trying to kill or arrest them only years ago.
Anyway, I enjoyed the book, and I recommend it. It was well written, and an engaging read. Toward the end of the book, in particular, there were some scenes that were tense enough that I actually really did have a hard time putting the book down.
So go check it out if you like books about crime, gangsters, the IRA, or ghosts.


The League said...

I figured the book couldn't be all bad. About two years ago Craig Ferguson had the author on his show, and the author was clearly not TV ready. Ferguson just really liked the book, and grabbed the guy while he came through LA on a book tour. It was more Ferguson's enthusiasm than anything the author said that took my interest. And then the official "crime" guy at Book People walked me directly to the book and said "this is a good one". So: there you go.

I also bought it (Jamie did not) so that I could borrow it later. Because that's the kind of brother I am.

J.S. said...

Yeah, you should read it. It's pretty good stuff, and I think it might be right up your alley.