Thursday, August 07, 2008

Beyond pundits and onto politcs

I so enjoyed the jabs at the Boston Red Sox and conservative media blowhards in Adrian McKinty's The Dead Yard that I devoted all of yesterday's comment to them. (Since I wasn't writing for the Media Formerly Known as Mainstream, I'm allowed that sort of thing.)

Now I'd like to say a few words about politics and history, since Northern Ireland's Troubles may well haunt the imaginations of Irish writers for quite some time. That prime minister of Northern Irish crime fiction blogging, Gerard Brennan, wondered recently why The Dead Yard was the least popular of McKinty's Michael Forsythe novels in the U.K. Here's part of what he wrote:

"Maybe it’s because this is McKinty’s ‘Troubles’ book. ... We have seen a hell of a lot of work based on the ‘Troubles’. Ireland and the UK are coming down with IRA stories. Some are better than others, and in this case, much better, but at the end of the day, people are looking for new settings and themes. America, however, still has quite an interest in this kind of thing, especially among the Irish-American communities. With the luxury of distance, they maybe have a romantic idea of the struggle and are open to more from this sub-genre. And McKinty has given it to them in spades."
The Dead Yard sees Forsythe infiltrating a breakaway IRA cell in the United States on the verge of the Good Friday Agreement in 1997. At this stage, everyone wants to silence these guys (and women), not least the main IRA, and McKinty manages the not easy feat of making them pathetic and terrifying at the same time.

I suggested to Gerard that if we in America still have an interest in stories about the Troubles, it might be because we're ready for McKinty's deromanticizing of them. Of course, though my name is Peter O'Zovsky, I'm not Irish. I don't know how crime fiction about the Troubles resonates in the numerous large Irish communities in America.

(For another view of the Troubles and their afterlife in Northern Irish crime fiction, see Brian McGilloway's comments to this blog about his novel Borderlands. McGilloway wrote, in part, that

"I wanted to write a non-Troubles book but, around the Border, it would be unrealistic to assume that they're not there somewhere — thus the only representation of the Troubles in Borderlands is the disembodied voice, talking about the past. It's there, but increasingly insubstantial. Or that was my intention, at least.")
I don't know what if any relevance this has, but I think McGilloway is about ten years younger than McKinty.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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42 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

One of the things that disturbs me is this attempt to dismiss the past by institutions (like the BBC) as some kind of bad dream. No one wants to hear about the Troubles anymore? Well that's too bad because they really happened and 3000 people really died.

When you start painting over murals in West Belfast and avoid teaching the Troubles in school because its too "sensitive" you're asking for problems down the line.

I feel these stories should be told and confronted head on. The great Troubles novel has yet to be written but it must be written. And as for movies, well, if you look at the Micksploitation films Hollywood made about Ulster in the 80's and 90's of course you're going to groan, but that doesnt mean that they cant get it right, it just means they havent done it so far.

Finally, how old do you think I am, Jeez.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

I don't really know much about the Troubles, so it's a subject that can still interest me.

I think, if I had to identify with the literary interest in Ireland, I'd say they have books about the Troubles, and we have documentaries and non-fiction books on the Iraq War.

P.S. I was playing Grand Theft Auto 4 the other day, and a guy that was handling a gun battle against the cops with me suddenly said "It's like the Troubles all over again" and I had no idea what that meant.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's surprising and alarming that the Troubles are avoided in school. As for the chaps at the BBC and elsewhere, perhaps they feel that the Northern Ireland situation is still going on and hence too early to portray in screen. Or maybe they're just afraid of becoming terrorist targets.

Adrian, it's not that you're so old, it's that i was surprised to see how young McGilloway was.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

CS, I think we have also had several non-fiction movies about the Iraq War because one occasionally reads remarks that Americans don't want to see movies about the war.

Does Grand Theft Auto 4 take place in Northern Ireland? Is the character who makes the remark Irish?

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, maybe five years older than Brian McGilloway.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - great post, as always. And thanks for promoting me to prime minister of Northern Irish crime fiction blogging. I like the ring of that.

gb

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome, Your Democratic Lordship. Thanks for the kind words and for the comment that sparked this post.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I seem to recall that the American Civil War has had more books written about it than any other war this country has participated in, and it shows no sign of diminishing as a topic the further we get away from it. Witness Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, published in 1974 (and in my view the best Civil War novel ever written).

I wonder if the same phenomenon will be observed over time with The Troubles as a subject. Maybe it's still too recent to be written about dispassionately?

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I'm sure this information is easily available, but I wonder when books, photos, plays and so on about the Civil Way began to be produced. Was there a cooling-off period, in other words?

August 07, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

The Killer Angels is a great book.

Hollywood hasnt been shy about making Troubles movies but they've all been awful. I wasnt kidding when I said that they were 'Micksploitation' films. The stereotyping alone will come to look like Gone With The Wind in a few years. And then if you throw in the bad accents, fake Belfast locations and one dimensional plots you've got a perfect storm of dreadfulness. Even intelligent directors like Ken Loach have fallen for this trope.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Also, South Africa had a truth and reconciliation commission where all the past grievances were aired. A line was drawn and people moved on. Northern Ireland has never done that and maybe it should.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, what's your list of the worst Micksploitation films?

That South African commission remains an astonishing fact of recent world history.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

1. The Devils Own: worst accent in the history of mankind and a stupid stupid story.

2. The Crying Game: absurd, silly, cowardly (the Brits kill the hostage in an accident not the IRA), overrated.

3. Hidden Agenda: hokey, racist, pointless.

4. Some Mothers Son: bad from start to finish.

5. The Boxer: filmed in Manchester, need I say more?

6. The one with Mickey Rourke: oh my stars, I dont even want to look that one up in IMDB

7. The one with Tommy Lee Jones. OMG the accent! The horror!

8. Cal: sentimental tosh, also kind of racist.

9. In the Name of the Father: In the name of Christ why do they keeping letting D Lewis do a Belfast accent? Dodgy story too. The usual stereotypes.

is that enough?

Joe Queenan has an article somewhere about Hollywood's Irish problem, I think he also mentions PS I Love You, The Janeane Garofolo one and things like that.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not only that but, as Homer Simpson said, the chick in "The Crying Game" is really a guy.

"The Crying Game" is the only one of that lot that I can remember having seen, and one criticism that I recall will serve to indicate the delicacy of feelings around this issue: If memory serves, I remember a complaint that the movie was slanted against the IRA, that the kidnappers were cardboard bad guys.

Let me know when the makers of a big movie, Hollywood or otherwise about a big issue, own up to bias or triviality.

I refer readers to your own thoughts on Hollywood's everyone-wants-to-be-Irish phenomenon.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Hollywood loves to portray IRA men as heroes: Mickey Rourke, Brad Pitt, Stephen Rea, Liam Neeson, Richard Gere, Day Lewis, the guy in Ronin etc. etc. The vast majority of people from both sides in Belfast had a rather different view at the time. Funnily enough after 9/11 Congressman Peter King (R,NY)stopped talking about how great the IRA were and Hollywood's love affair with the "good terrorists" mysteriously dried up.

I think what the IRA did signing up to the peace agreements actually was heroic. That might make a compelling film - the guys who want peace, not war.

August 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suspect that little is stronger than a moviemaker’s belief in his or her own courage and virtue. Someone ought to write – or maybe someone already has written – a fictional account of what went on within the IRA in the time leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. I have in mind the passing mentions in The Dead Yard of the IRA’s wanting the Sons of Cuchulain out of the way just as badly as the FBI and British intelligence did.

Then there was that other passing mention, that of the danger of men left unemployed by peace turning their talents instead to crime. This, well told and unromanticized -- no lone-wolf-in-the-Wild-West mythologizing -- could make an interesting story.

Facile comparisons between Northern Ireland and the Middle East abound, of course, and here’s one more. With respect to your statement that “The vast majority of people from both sides in Belfast had a rather different view at the time,” Matt Rees, who sets his crime novels in the Palestinian territories, had this to say about domestic politics in Gaza: “Ordinary Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, are sick of Hamas. They elected them to punish Fatah, which was corrupt. They didn't elect them because they believe in an Islamic state. They expected Hamas to negotiate with Israel, but to do so more toughly than Fatah. Instead Hamas allowed itself to be pushed into a corner and continued to behave like an opposition militia.”

August 07, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

That's a terrific quote. I went to Gaza once and the experience I had was similar to Matt Rees's. One thing I noticed that paralleled Belfast was that the women were doing all the work. Men are very good at complaining in pubs (Belfast) and tea shops (Gaza) while women have to earn money, watch kids, clean the house, etc. That's also why I think the great Troubles novel will be written by a woman who tend to be a bit more pragmatic and clear sighted than men.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You may read the rest of Matt Rees's comments in this interview on a blog that modesty forbids me to name.

I don't know what the gray and dusty men of Tunis were saying as the lined the streets smoking quietly at outdoor cafés in the afternoon, but there were certainly no women among them. I did see a beautiful woman behind closed doors in Tunis -- henna-colored hair, a sleeveless blouse revealing pale, beautiful shoulders. She was pushing a shopping cart full of liquor in the drinks section of a huge supermarket, each end of which was closed off behind a set of swinging doors of the kind seen in saloons in Western movies and watched over by a young man in short sleeved shirt and tie.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I just jumped across. What an interesting fellow! And another great I/V.

You didnt get to sid bou said when you were in Tunis did you? A village I could happily retire to. Everything Greece should be but without Scandanavian ravers and west European hooligans. Oh that reminds me chapter 1 of Dead Yard was based on a real incident when I was on holiday with my parents.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, I did get to Sidi Bou Said, but something about bleached white houses and souvenir stands detracted somewhat from the charm. The "Family House" was wonderful, full of odd Dr. Seuss-like staircases on the roof that didn't seem to go anywhere, copious tea, rich colors and a recording of malouf music that could drain the tension from the most high-strung body. So, I'd live in Sidi Bou Said if I could live in a house like that, but I probably wouldn't leave home much.

Wow, so you really got involved in a battle of soccer hooligans? I once wandered into a 400,000-strong demonstration in Istanbul against anti-Islamic government educational policies, but nothing as exciting as a soccer riot.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I figured you'd like Matt Rees since he likes Chandler.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

The Red Badge of Courage was published in 1895, 30 years after Appomattox.

"Civil War novels began to be published in the first years of the War itself -- much as World War II movies were made even in the early 1940s. The end of the War saw a growth market in fiction, often written by demobilized veterans."

That's from a wonderful set of pages about Civil War novels from Tim Morris in what looks like the English department at UT-Arlington.

It lists by decade, by author, by title, and by period (antebellum, Reconstruction), genre (detective!), group (African-Americans) and by featured individuals (Sherman, Lincoln).

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Adrian, has anyone written a history of Sinn Fein as a political movement yet? I'd find a good biography of Gerry Adams very interesting, too. Even one of Paisley might be good.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Linkmaster

Tim Pat Coogan's the man. He has written a brilliant history of the IRA. He's a little bit too much of an apologist for my taste but I dont think anyone from outside NI would notice. Adams has about 3 autobiographies. The first one about his years in jail is actually quite good. The other two, rubbish. The really interesting biog I want to see is Martin Maginnis who (allegedly) was the architect of the IRA ceasefire. Currently he's Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister and (allegedly) head of the IRA's Army Council.

Peter,

When were you there? I was there in 93 and it was pretty unspoiled.

Yup I was in a football riot in Tenerife and an even worse one in Sheffield when I'd gone up to support Coventry City in the FA Cup. That one still gives me nightmares: police horses with riot glass over their faces, molotovs, railway confetti, flares, a desperate run to the train station...

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I'll take a look at those pages. It will be interesting to look for detective novels and to speculate about links between crime novels and war. Interesting, too, that Civil War novels were already being published during the war.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Thanks, Adrian. Here's Coogan's website, for anyone else interested. He's got nine books listed there; I'm going to assume The IRA is the one suggested.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Linkmeister (sorry for calling you master) ooh, that's a lot of books, yeah the IRA is the one I liked. Its very good. Dont know when it was last updated, but its still great. Also, theres a press in Belfast called Blackstaff who have done a lot of good stuff on The Troubles and they're also bringing out a Belfast crime writing anthology called Belfast Nights.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gents, I thank you both for that Irish historical material. Ireland might be my next destination, which means some of the suggested titles might make enriching and illuminating reading.

Adrian, I was in Sidi Bou Said (and elsewhere in Tunisia) not quite two years ago. I resisted the blandishments of one particular bath-oil salesman. God, it was fun to see how annoyed he got.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blackstaff. Belfast Nights. Got it. Thanks. This, too, bears investigation.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

And to clarify its Martin MCGUINNESS and just to be on the safe side let me add that everything about his IRA links are rumors which he denies. Allegedly. (Wikipedia is a lot less cowardly than I am).

Ger Brennan has the inside dope on Belfast Nights.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Peter (with a nod to Adrian) - Belfast Nights is set to be a cracking collection. Short stories from the best in NI crime fiction edited by... wait for it... Colin Bateman!

Unfortunately, there's no word of a publication date, or even a final list of contributors, but the good folk at Blackstaff are going to let me know when there's something worth knowing. I'm well looking forward to it though. Sort of embodies everything CSNI stands for.

Cheers

gb

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lots of "allegedly"s floating around Northern Ireland, I should imagine. Matt Rees has a character named Khamis Zeydan, a Palestinian police officer for whom a hair-raising past is hinted at in Rees' first novel. I'm not sure we in America like to acknowledge a past like that in leaders even of young proto-countries.

Oh, and I should add that the bath-oil salesman whose blandishments I resisted was trying to sell me his fragrant, life-infusing, vital essences in the casbah of Tunis, naturally. He cut his asking price by more than 80 percent, which leads me to believe that I could have got an even better deal if I'd been interested enough to make an offer.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerard (with a nod to Adrian): You'll keep us posted on this project, I hope. Meanwhile, I'll look into Blackstaff.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

I will indeed. Here's their site.

BTW, isn't it like four in the morning in Philly? When do you sleep, man?

gb

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the link.

It's 4:25 in the morning, actually (I work evenings). When do I sleep?

Now.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

G'night then.

gb

August 08, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

And goodnight from me too, I must heed the siren call of bedtime stories.

Adrian...

August 08, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

In Grand Theft Auto 4, the guy I referred to above is part of an organized Irish Family, but the video game itself takes place in a carbon copy of New York City.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And a belated goodnight to you two.

Gerard, when do I sleep? Same time as Adrian's kid.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

CS, the ads I've seen for the latest version of Grand Theft Auto feature a cast of dangerous-looking Slavic characters, maybe meant to be Serbs or Russians. I did read that at least one of these characters is supposed to be an illegal immigrant. Apparently the game's designers make a real effort to be topical.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

It looks like The IRA was updated in 2002 (Palgrave Macmillan edition). My library has the 1993 edition. Hmm. Given everything that happened in NI in those nine years, I'll have to update in my head while I read the older version.

August 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps the updated edition has a usefully weighty appendix. And I'll add the book to my list of vacation reading.

August 08, 2008  

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