One by One in the Darkness
By Deirdre Madden
A story about three Northern Irish sisters. It has a double narrative, part of which describes their childhood and shows the impact of the political changes and the violence of the late-1960s upon the people of Ulster, as the wholeness and coherence of early childhood gradually break down.
Swatragh and Draperstown; Magherafelt and Toome; Plumbridge and Castledawson: her family couldn’t understand her interest in these places. She drove through pinched villages where the edges of the footpaths were painted red, white and blue, where there were Orange Lodges and locked churches; through more prosperous towns with their memorials from the Great War and their baskets of lobelia and fuchsia hanging from brackets from the street lamps, with their Tidy Town awards on burnished plaques and their proper shopfronts. She drove through villages where unemployed men stood on street corners and dragged on cigarettes, or ambled up and down between the chip shop and the bookie’s, past walls which bore Republican graffiti or incongruously glamorous advertisements on huge hoardings. She saw Planter towns that had had the heart bombed out of them; ‘Business as Usual’ signs pasted on the chipboard nailed over the broken windows of the Northern Bank and Williamson’s Hardware. Now and then she would see a Mission tent, or a temporary road sign indicating the way to a ‘Scripture Summer Camp’. She drove along narrow roads between shaggy wet hedges of hawthorn and beech. Once, somewhere in South Derry, she saw a field where a few pale cattle stood up to their knees in nettles and scutchgrass before a ruined building with ‘INLA rule’ painted on it in crude white letters. The cattle stared at her mildly as she passed by.
She saw signposts for places which had once held no particular significance but whose names were now tainted by the memory of things which had been done there: Claudy, Enniskillen, Ballykelly. She drove and drove and drove under grey skies and soft clouds. The towns and fields slipped past her until she felt that she was watching a film, and then she realised that if she had been asked to pick a single word to sum up her feelings towards Northern Ireland she would be at a complete loss, so much so that she didn’t even know whether a negative or a positive word would have been more apt.
Extract courtesy Faber and Faber Ltd
Three sisters at the centre of this novel meet at home in Belfast. They grew up in the ocountry and recall the kitchen in an aunt’s house, renovated since their father was shot dead in it, and realise that though the grisly scene has been sanitised, many happy and important memories have been covered up too.
A core theme of Deirdre Madden’s is how the deaths of innocents were often rationalised in the Troubles. She explores the question of whether it is really possible for those who have grown up in the antagonistic communities to break free and divest themselves of responsibility for the division.
‘Her authority when writing on her native Northern Ireland is supreme . . . beautifully written ... an author with a rare talent ... haunting and beautiful.’ Literary Review
‘No other book has left me with such a lasting impression of the hurt of Northern Ireland.’ Sunday Tribune
‘Ambitious and wide-ranging ... skilfully constructed ... particularly good at the way in which the past constructs the present, how intense memories transfigure current experience ... A quiet and effective psychological realism.”
Faber and Faber Ltd
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