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The Worst a Man Can Be

Three powerful new novels by Northern Irish male writers this year all have something in common. All draw on previous stories and find a freedom in that device to explore evil.

Thomas Paul Burgess takes an idea from the James Stewart film A Wonderful Life and reverses it. This idea is that a man might, in his despondency, meet an angel who will show him the best that he has done with his life and revive his will to go on.

Thomas Paul Burgess

In Through Hollow Lands, another George Bailey, who is a complete shit, is shown the worst that he has done and given a prospect of redemption. The result is bleak, hilarious and quite awesome in its embrace of a truly daunting idea, that with real badness comes insight.

Richard O’Rawe touches on the same idea when he creates criminal geniuses and pits them against each other in his novel, Northern Heist, based on the 2004 Northern  Bank robbery. O’Rawe takes the known and familiar elements of the story, the tiger kidnappings in their brutality, and weaves a new story. What we are left with is a sense, similar to that in Burgess’s book, that we have come close enough to touch people we would never want to meet, and found them fascinating.

Richard O'Rawe

Then Michael Hughes in Country, tells the story of the Iliad through IRA rivalries in South Armagh, starting of course, with the taking of a woman. The raw dialogue of low and vicious people becomes epic and Hughes shows how insights into war are timeless and universal. (I didn’t get a pic of Michael.)

None of these writers know each other, yet.  All are at early stages in their careers as fiction writers. All have found the similar devices of modelling their story on someone else’s; in O’Rawe’s case on the news coverage of a robbery. And all have done this to explore the worst brutality a person might be capable of.

 

 

 

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