Book-In-Focus: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden
"Resolutely humane. . .Say Nothing [has an] exacting and terrifying lucidity. . .meticulously reported. . .Keefe's narrative is an architectural feat, expertly constructed out of complex and contentious material, arranged and balanced just so. . .an absorbing drama." —The New York Times
This is the story
In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles.
Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville's children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress--with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.
Patrick Radden Keefe's mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders.
From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past--Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.
Reviews and What Readers Say
“ Resolutely humane. . .Say Nothing [has an] exacting and terrifying lucidity. . . meticulously reported. . .Keefe's narrative is an architectural feat, expertly constructed out of complex and contentious material, arranged and balanced just so. . .an absorbing drama."
―JENNIFER SZALAI, The New York Times
“ If it seems as if I'm reviewing a novel, it is because Say Nothing has lots of the qualities of good fiction, to the extent that I'm worried I'll give too much away, and I'll also forget that Jean McConville was a real person, as were--are--her children. And her abductors and killers. Keefe is a terrific storyteller. . .He brings his characters to real life. The book is cleverly structured. We follow people--victim, perpetrator, back to victim--leave them, forget about them, rejoin them decades later. It can be read as a detective story. . .What Keefe captures best, though, is the tragedy, the damage and waste, and the idea of moral injury. . .Say Nothing is an excellent account of the Troubles.”
―RODDY DOYLE, The New York Times Book Review
"An exceptional new book. . .explores this brittle landscape [of Northern Ireland] to devastating effect. . .fierce reporting. . .The story of McConville's disappearance, its crushing effects on her children, the discovery of her remains in 2003, and the efforts of authorities to hold someone accountable for her murder occupy the bulk of Say Nothing. Along the way, Mr. Keefe navigates the flashpoints, figures and iconography of the Troubles: anti-Catholic discrimination, atrocities by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and occupation by the British Army, grisly IRA bombings in Belfast and London, the internment of Irish soldiers and the hunger strikes of Bobby Sands and others, the Falls Road and the Shankill Road, unionist paramilitaries, the "real" IRA and the “provisionals," counter-intelligence, the Armalite rile and the balaclava. It is a dizzying panorama, yet Mr. Keefe presents it with clarity." ―MICHAEL O'DONNELL, The Wall Street Journal
" Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book Say Nothing investigates the mystery of a missing mother and reveals a still-raw violent past. . .The book often reads like a novel, but as anyone familiar with his work for The New Yorker can attest, Keefe is an obsessive reporter and researcher, a master of narrative nonfiction. . .An incredible story."
“ As the narrator of a whodunit. . .[Keefe] excels, exposing the past, layer by layer, like the slow peel of a rotten onion, as he works to answer a question that the British government, the Northern Irish police and the McConville family has been seeking the answer to for nearly 50 years. . .Keefe draws the characters in this drama finely and colorfully. . .Say Nothing is a reminder of Northern Ireland's ongoing trauma. And with Brexit looming, it's a timely warning that it doesn't take much to open old wounds in Ireland, and make them fresh once more."
―PADDY HIRSH, NPR
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Patrick Radden Keefe is an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and the author of SAY NOTHING, THE SNAKEHEAD, and CHATTER. He lives in New York.