Review: Say Nothing
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder & Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe (2018)
A sentence near the end of the book served as a pretty great summary of its objective: "to tell a story about how people become radicalized in their uncompromising devotion to a cause, and about how individuals - and a whole society - makes sense of political violence once they have passed through the crucible and finally have time to reflect."
This book starts with the mystery of a "disappeared" woman, Jean McConville, single mother of ten, who was taken from her home during the height of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Using this as a jumping off point, Radden Keefe details events and people that were seminal to the conflict - a sweeping portrait of Northern Ireland (and Dublin, and London) from the late 1960s to the peace accord in 1998, and beyond. The narrative jumps around from victim to perpetrator, backstreets and beaches to English prisons, violent acts to political posturing. At times I found the jumps a bit confusing, but it's possible that was partly due to the fact that I was listening to some of the book on Audible (back & forth between reading & listening, depending on what I had time for), and the reader has a thick Irish accent. I definitely found myself losing sight of the story line because I was too busy enjoying the brogue! (After a while I got used to it and was able to pay closer attention.)
Besides a passing knowledge of Bloody Sunday, I really didn't know anything about the key events or players... So, IRA members Dolours & Marian Price, Brendan Hughes, and Gerry Adams were all new names to me. I was particularly interested to watch the progression of these individuals and others - through militant activism, to, in their older age, varying degrees of guilt/conscience/reckoning and avoidance/denial. Many former IRA members spoke on tape in their later years - interviews which were captured and saved at Boston College. These oral histories were meant to be sealed until their subjects' deaths, but politics and poor planning meant they ended up being controversial and, in some cases, exposed.
The book ends with fascinating speculation about the implications of Brexit. Northern Ireland will no longer be a part of the EU, while the Republic of Ireland will be, creating a border potentially as guarded and contentious as it was during the Troubles.
"And whatever you say, you say nothing."
I look forward to discussing the book further at my book club meeting in a few weeks. If you're interested in joining a book club, you can find more information at the Writers & Books Young Professionals Book Club, The Book Thieves here, or search for Book Thieves on Facebook to see our whole line-up of books for 2020.
(Thank you to Karen Fanning for loaning me - and my mom - the book!)
2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
One of the top ten books of 2019 by the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post
(Photo above: Had to include a photo of the book AND headphones. Listening to this was part of the experience!)
UP NEXT: Euphoria, by Lily King