SAY NOTHING by Patrick Radden Keefe

From the Jacket

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.

My Thoughts

“If you have to say anything, say nothing.”

Patrick Radden Keefe’s SAY NOTHING is a truly eye-opening read!  Despite my Irish heritage and Catholic upbringing, I know practically nothing about The Troubles beyond what is represented on Derry Girls.  I’ve been really into investigative journalism books lately, and SAY NOTHING is among the best of the best; it taught me so much while still telling an addictive narrative.

With such a complex issue like The Troubles on Keefe’s hands, I knew I was in for a complex book; SAY NOTHING is a very involved text, boasting more than 500 pages.  It is told in relatively short chapters that alternate between various points of view including the McConville family and Dolours Price.  I do feel like the structure and format of the book made it unnecessarily difficult to follow; there are SO many stories going on while more and more characters are introduced.  With Keefe continuously adding in narratives, I felt like I could never fully grasp all of the information presented to me.  As soon as I was clear on one person’s story, Keefe would introduce another, and though I am enthusiastic about getting to know all points-of-view on this issue, it slowed down my comprehension because I had to figure out a way to keep everything straight!

SAY NOTHING is certainly an overwhelming read, and not just in terms of subject matter.  It is full of information to be absorbed, fantastic journalism by Patrick Radden Keefe, and so much to be learned about these decades of brutal conflict in Ireland.  Though initially I had a hard time getting into the multiple narratives Keefe presents, SAY NOTHING turned out to be one of the most rewarding nonfiction tales I have read.


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