By Glenn Patterson
When Drew Linden’s new job brings him back to his native Belfast, he is determined to remain distant from everything that once tied him there, including his friends and family. But as three generations of family history unfold, it becomes clear that the past Drew has been running from is the very thing he needs to face. And that his sense of self is rooted forever in the troubled city of his birth.
At the heart of this story is the compelling question of whether those who grow up in northern Ireland but attempt to eschew its cultural influences on them can really break free from them or if they are essentially implicated in the Trouble.
“The Belfast he left, the Belfast the Expats forswore, was a city dying on its feet: cratered sites and hunger strikes; atrophied, self-abased. But the Belfast he had heard reports of this past while, the Belfast he had seen with his own eyes last month, was a city in the process of recasting itself entirely. The army had long since departed from the Grand Central Hotel, on whose levelled remains an even grander shopping complex was now nearing completion. Restaurants, bars and takeaways proliferated along the lately coined Golden Mile, running south from the refurbished Opera House, and new names had appeared in the shopping streets: Next, Body Shop, Tie Rack, Principles. And his own firm, of course, Bookstore.”
“There was heavy fog lying, like underdone air, the morning Drew started to work. It was a twenty-minute walk from his flat into town. Malone Road, University Road, Bradbury Place, Shaftesbury Square ... Buildings appeared to him one at a time, stripped of context, jutting into space, as though craning their necks. ‘Where the fuck are we?’ ... Dublin Road, Bedford Street, Donegall Square - West, North - Donegall Place. Turning a final corner, he followed for a time the course of the culverted Farset as it flowed, unseen, from its shrouded source to its ancient, city-christening union with the fog-bound Lagan, and then he was there. Belfast’s Bookstore.”
Glenn Patterson, Fat Lad, (Blackstaff Press, 2008) reproduced by permission of Blackstaff Press.
“When Patterson succeeds, he succeeds brilliantly. No other novelist has proved as capable of capturing the heart of modern Belfast.”
“A triumph. Maybe the finest novel written out of Ulster in twenty-five years.”
Scotland on Sunday
“Though well aware of the limitations and expectations frequently imposed on the ‘regional’ writer, Patterson has no inhibitions about claiming as his primary territory the Northern Irish Protestant Unionist community from which he came. The experience of returning to that community after years spent away from it - Patterson’s own experience, in essence - provides the basis for his second novel, Fat Lad (1992), in which Belfast-born Drew Linden returns home from England to take up a managerial job in a bookshop. Drew’s perspective, half tourist, half native, provides for an almost archaeological excavation of the city and its inhabitants, as the ersatz and commercial surface of contemporary Belfast is gradually drawn back to reveal its labyrinthine history; its domestic riots, its participation in two world wars, and its underlying industrial heart, emblematised forever in its construction of the doomed liner, the Titanic. Never stable, always in transition, part of an ongoing process of reclamation, Belfast represents the triumph of its founding fathers over the mud and water with which they began:
‘They had had to build the land before they could work it. Dredging, scouring, banking, consolidating, they fashioned a city in their own image: dry docks, graving docks, ships, cranes, kilns, silos; industry from their industry, solidity from morass, leaving an indelible imprint on the unpromising slobland, and their names driven like screwpiles into the city’s sense of itself. Dargan, Dunbar, Workman, Wolff, Harland ...’
Fat Lad offers a dense and multi-layered narrative, interweaving such urban documentary with the entanglements of its protagonist’s love affairs, interrupting the progress of his convoluted family relationships with dark reminders of paramilitary violence and disturbance. While some would argue that these intricate and diverse strands become tortuous, the effect is a novel, which successfully frustrates any one-dimensional reading of Belfast.”
Eve Patten, contemporarywriters.com
Chatto & Windus, The Blackstaff Press
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