“All stories are love stories”, are the opening words of the novel, spoken by Jake Jackson. Set against ‘the Troubles’ that ravaged Belfast from the late 60s to 1998, the novel actually focused on the time surrounding the first IRA ceasefires in the mid 90s. The novel’s two central characters were Jake Jackson, a Catholic and his best friend, Chuckie Lurgan, who was Protestant. The two lads are members of the working class and deal with the situation in their city in different ways, all the while looking for love. We hear from Jake in the first person in contrast to hearing Chuckie’s story in the third person from an omniscient narrator in alternating chapters. Chuckie succeeds in earning inordinate amounts of money from the many incentives poured into Belfast to encourage development. Jake is a more sophisticated character, who does not identify with the typical Catholic position in the conflict. In fact he makes the following observation about the two warring factions, “The comedy was that any once-strong difference had long melted away and they resembled no one now as much as they resembled each other.” Life continues for the characters with the Troubles forming only a distant backdrop to their ongoing daily routines. Towards the end an element of hope is introduced as, “… Chuckie listened to a variety of people tell him that the Troubles were at an end. Peace had come at last. The war was over.”
Our group enjoyed reading this novel. The gritty working class characters and their dialogue were humorous and engaging. The pace of the novel in chapters one to nine carried the plot forward at a brisk pace. Chapter 10 came upon us out of the blue with its paean to Belfast. Our reaction was mixed, some of us welcomed the change of pace and the lyric qualities of the chapter, while others found the lyricism unappealing. However all agreed that especially following the love song to Belfast, Chapter 11 presented harrowing insight into the devastation caused to human life by a bomb blast that made the violence of the period unspeakably real to us. Then we found the pace till the end of the novel slowed somewhat but Wilson is able to untangle all the love stories that have been percolating throughout the book, one rather surprising. And yes, both Chuckie and Jake find love in the end.
Book Group 1