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This Human Season [Paperback]

LOUISE DEAN


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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Northern Irish life in led in & out of prison, late 1979 March 20 2006
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
A friend from Ballymurphy recommended this to me, a novel that takes place around Christmas 1979 as seen through two characters who never meet: Kathleen Moran, a West Belfast mother, wife, and weary at the age of 40, with one son contemplating the looming choice to go on hunger strike in Long Kesh prison. There, guard John Dunn, a veteran of the British Army who has already done three tours in the North of Ireland, decides to work for the increased pay given for such hazardous duty, not only on the inside, but as a target outside the walls from both embittered Loyalists as well as hostile Republicans.

Dean tells these two tales well. She avoids cliche, does not show off an overly literary style, preferring to keep more inside, via indirect narration, the perspectives largely limited to Kathleen and John. As the novel progresses, we begin to see more about their partners, their pasts, their relatives, and the reasons they both choose to endure the North rather than flee for less embattled, more leisurely, climes. The alternation, every chapter, of their two stories helps avoid melodrama or predictability. By no means a "Troubles thriller" or a hackneyed hand-wringing liberal plaint, the author--as her acknowledgments show in the appendix, has by interviewing and listening to the real people who lived through this time been able to mix their experiences into fiction that passes for fact, as limited to two frail people recognizably very human.

While I in turn recommend this book, a few very minor points prevented it from earning a full five stars. Twice the names of Cardinal O Fiach and the first name of Eamon[n] are misspelled--this shows a shortsighted editor; the misspelling of the area of Twinbrook, again a miniscule slip, again makes me wish a bit more attention had been paid to such telling details so that they rang as true as possible. Some of the supporting characters, such as Lingard's wife, the priest Father Pearse, Brendan the Sinn Fein publicist, and O'Malley the IRA OC, perhaps based on real folks, do not always share the same depth as the main characters, and therefore leave the reader a bit let down. Finally, there is what seems to be a half-visible subplot about Loyalists having been attacked by the guards and the resulting backlash from those on the outside against John and his colleagues that remains too vaguely developed.

In closing, this book effectively avoids what I thought would be the pat ending, and Dean, nearly to the conclusion, manages to freshen up what has by now decades on become its own often all too predictable genre of British literature. The pace does weary just short of the finish line. Yet, the two leading characters, by their refusal to become either plaster saints or evil figurines, earn the reader's trust and empathy.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (4.5) "It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can suffer the most who will conquer." Feb. 2 2007
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This wonderfully-crafted novel addresses the surreal contrast between the warring factions in 1979 Belfast, Catholics battered by years of violence in the name of the cause, the Brits reacting with determined force, barging into rebel homes in search of contraband. All is writ in the language of occupation, one side fighting for a united Ireland, the other imposing English law, families caught in the middle, their loyalty unassailable, their children learning of war instead of the easy camaraderie of childhood. Sean Moran has been arrested in the death of an English soldier, sent to Belfast's Maze Prison, where he "takes the blanket", joining a group of rebels who refuse to wear prison clothing and paint the walls of their cells with excrement.

Kate Moran is reeling from her oldest son's incarceration, the entire family charged with anxiety as British soldiers rampage through their home searching for weapons. Kate's husband, the senior Sean, continues to hide in the comfort of the bottle, rehashing his old war stories, proud that his son is a soldier for the cause. In contrast to this family caught in the grinding jaws of cycling violence, Englishman John Dunn reports daily to the Maze, plodding through foul-smelling shifts where the other guards survive by fortifying themselves with drink. Stunned by the cavalier brutality and lack of discipline around him, John is carefully watched by his fellow guards for weakness or signs of empathy with the enemy, working long, depressing hours, his home life suffering from lack of attention. An "us or them" mentality prevails, the Maze a black hole of bare subsistence, the incarcerated rebels determined to change their status from criminals to prisoners of war.

The result is pure bedlam, the beliefs of each faction polarizing and demeaning to all, the guards lurking in the same filthy hell as their prisoners: "The moment you've put on that uniform on, you are a target." Finally, For Dunn, hope appears in the person of his son Mark, born of a casual acquaintance years earlier. It is John's connection with this young man that pulls him from the depressing tedium of his job, offering an opportunity to experience the rewards of fatherhood. Against an implacable foe with no end in sight, the Moran's play out their drama, trapped by the circumstances of time and place. Simultaneously, John Dunn lives his personal nightmare as a prison guard, his life threatened, family dynamic in constant flux.

Through the two households, Dean explores the effects of long-term conflict and the damage done to the social fabric of a warring city, each side locked into preordained battle lines. It is the inevitability of violence that defines Belfast in 1979, with no room for negotiation, the citizens traumatized by a harsh existence with few rewards. The contrast between the two sides is striking, immutable, a long struggle cast in black and white. The crux: "You can't change anyone's mind by killing them." The essence of this dilemma is beautifully captured in the characters that people this powerful novel, a human season, "this springtime of hatred." Luan Gaines/2007.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly engaging and worth your time Aug. 8 2008
By Perf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book on a whim in a used book store and am very glad I did so. I knew enough about the historical context to be engrossed in the story, but not enough to be bothered by some of the small errors or omissions that troubled other reviewers here. Dean's characters drew me in from the first page, and I was reluctant to put the book down. Every single character was flawed, sometimes deeply, and yet compelling. The blurb on the back of the book marvelled at the balance Dean achieved in treating the two sides of the conflict. I would agree, though if pressed I would say she's a bit gentler with the Catholics. But only a bit. I thought I foresaw the climax of the story, and I was thoroughly wrong. That's not the only mark of a good read, but it's on the list. If the premise of this book interests you, it is well worth your time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful insight into "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland June 17 2012
By Patricia - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I bought this book "accidentally". I love Louise Dean and just randomly ordered another one of her books without reading the reviews (I don't often do that). I was shocked by the first pages - British soldiers brutally searching a home in Northern Ireland. The language is graphic and engaging, but frightening. I didn't have any idea what I was getting into and actually put the book down for a couple of months but it haunted me and I eventually picked it back up again and could not put it down even though there was a knot in my stomach always fearing the next terrible thing that might happen. Fortunately, Dean handles even the worse violence well and I can recommend the book even to those with weak stomachs - stick with it as it is well worth it.

Dean doesn't take sides in "The Troubles" - she follows two main characters who never meet: Kathleen, a vibrant, complex Northern Irish mother with a drunken husband and an older son in prison who is on strike and threatening to go on hunger strike; and John, a British soldier who takes a job as a prison guard with no idea what he is getting into. The conditions in the prison are a shock both to the guards and to the prisoners (and even more so to this reader). As you follow the plot and see how people are sucked into this awful violence unable to find a way out, it gives profound insights into human nature and the ethical questions we can face. Knowing that ultimately some modicum of peace will eventually be found gives you hope but there is so much mindless suffering to come before that occurs. I highly recommend this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally Well Done Aug. 4 2008
By Frederick D. Wagner Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent book detailing life in Belfast during a few months in 1979. The dialogue, the exposition, the plot all are just superb. I hope Mrs. Dean writes many many books-she is a great writer!

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