Friday, May 23, 2008

Gawking across borders at Brian McGilloway's Borderlands

I wonder if people from Northern Ireland ever get tired of outsiders filtering everything about their homeland through the lens of the Troubles.

I suspect that Brian McGilloway does not. Or maybe he does and, having resigned himself to this state of affairs, decides to have a bit of fun with it. He calls his debut novel Borderlands, after all, for the zone where the Irish Republic and the North meet. And the book opens with a body found straddling the border.

Mostly McGilloway hints at the Troubles through the verbal equivalent of a photographic negative: Where one would have expected to see violence so recently, one sees instead its inverse: peaceful cooperation. Here, the republic's Gardai borrow equipment from the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The protagonist, Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin, and his opposite number, Inspector Hendry of the Northern Irish police, share an easy rapport that extends to mutual kidding and even shared interrogations. Even in their absence, the Troubles are present.

Against such subtle reminders, the rare explicit references to the Troubles hit hard, as here, when Hendry replies to Devlin's inquiries about into the roots of their current case: "I told you yesterday. The main line of inquiry at the time was IRA involvement. Of course, that meant that it never went any further."

Or here, the novel's darkest and funniest passage, in which Devlin has sought out a priest both to confess a minor marital indiscretion and also to ask the priest's help in reaching a shadowy IRA contact:

"God forgives you, Inspector. Your wife, I suspect, will forgive you. Try now to forgive yourself. I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. Leave your phone on."

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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