By Glenn Patterson
Glenn Patterson’s The International describes day to day life in a Belfast hotel on the eve of the Troubles.
Patterson has here tried to recreate the city of Belfast at a crucial juncture, when it was still possible to imagine that the Troubles would not happen. It reminds us of the ordinary concerns of people in a vibrant city.
“I wish I could describe for you Belfast as it was then, before it was brought shaking, quaking and lying about it with batons and stones on to the world’s small screens, but I’m afraid I was not in the habit of noticing it much myself. What reason was there to, after all? It was simply The Town. I could give you the statistics you might find in any book - population, industry, numbers of churches and bars - or I could tell you that a week before the events I am describing I had woken in a room not a quarter of a mile from the City Hall to the sound of chickens fussing in the yard below. Only in recent years had the journey on foot from southern tip to northern fringe - from extreme east to far west - ceased to be a comfortable stroll; , even now few people I knew missing their last bus home would have dreamed of taking a taxi. The B.U.M. [Belfast Urban Motorway] was to change all that, of course. The B.U.M. was to give us four-lane, six-lane carriageways in the sky, primary distributor routes, ring roads - inner, outer, and intermediate - with flats where there used to be ratty houses, growth centres where now there were small outlying towns. We were going to be modern tomorrow, but for today the city was little different from the city I had been born into. Ask me then did I like it and I don’t know that I would have understood the question; you might as well have asked me did I like breathing. If I had seen other cities I would have understood that Belfast was in its way beautiful, as it was I reckoned there were probably better places to live and probably places a whole lot worse.”
Glenn Patterson, The International, (Blackstaff Press, 2008) reproduced by permission of Blackstaff Press.
“The International by Glenn Patterson tells the story of the end of innocence in Northern Ireland, focussing on the weekend of the first meeting of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, and concentrating on the richness and hilarity of ordinary life. Patterson bathes his characters in a strange sort of lightness and clarity which makes what is coming all the more dark and tragic. He has become the most serious and humane chronicler of Northern Ireland over the past 30 years, as well as one of the best contemporary Irish novelists. “
Colm Toibin, The Guardian
“Set with extraordinary precision on the last Saturday of January 1967, The International(1999) is an account of a day in the life of a leading Belfast hotel, seen from the viewpoint of its barman, Danny. Again, the ordinary leads us to the extraordinary, as the various characters who work and meet in the hotel - including the founding members of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association - become implicitly connected to the processes of history itself, and to the long violent fall-out of the Troubles which would ensue. The novel is brilliantly conceived and technically perfect, but it is its historical exactitude, which impresses most. Patterson painstakingly recaptures every nuance, every colloquialism, every snatch of conversation and even every fashion detail necessary to the authentic recreation of Belfast ‘as it was then, before it was brought shaking, quaking, and laying about it with batons and stones on to the world’s small screens ...’
The International is an extraordinarily moving yet poignantly arbitrary snapshot of a community framed in its last moments of anonymity and normality. The novel as a whole functions as a validation of Patterson’s consistent aim to recuperate - imaginatively - the multiple stories and memories of individuals, and to endorse these as the basis of identity, regardless of political teleologies. It is an approach that defines him as a quintessentially democratic novelist, subtly defying a context that threatens the very basis of democracy.”
Eve Patten, contemporarywriters.com
Anchor, Blackstaff Press
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