Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

'Ghosts of Belfast'

Book review

by Peter Flom, Yahoo! Contributor Network, January 4, 2011

But more than this, Neville manages to make nearly all of the dark and tortured characters in The Ghosts of Belfast appealing as well. I am no novelist, but I imagine it must be difficult to walk this line - to show the appeal of characters whose acts are appalling - and to do it for both sides of a battle that was so emotional.

For years, Gerry Fegan was a "hard man" for the Irish Republican Army. He killed at least a dozen people. But now, peace has come to Northern Ireland, but not to Fegan, for he is haunted by The Ghosts of Belfast. The ghosts of the people he killed are haunting him, demanding that he now kill those who ordered their executions. And Fegan is trying to drown them in alcohol.

In The Ghosts of Belfast, Stuart Neville has written one of the most original thriller novels I have ever read, and one of the best written. The originality is seen everywhere, from his choice of protagonist - hero might be the wrong word - to the numbering of the chapters (the first one is 12, and they count down).

The Ghosts of Belfast is a dark, dark novel. Not so much because of gruesomeness (there are many violent scenes, but not extraordinarily many, for a novel of this type) but because no one in it is "clean". Every character has been warped and twisted by the "troubles", and, thus, The Ghosts of Belfast may be one of the truest depictions of the effects of long term war on a community. Gerry Fegan's ghosts demand retribution of the most gruesome kind - and long after the fact. There is no "forgive and forget" here. Nothing is forgotten and nothing is forgiven.

But more than this, Neville manages to make nearly all of the dark and tortured characters in The Ghosts of Belfast appealing as well. I am no novelist, but I imagine it must be difficult to walk this line - to show the appeal of characters whose acts are appalling - and to do it for both sides of a battle that was so emotional.

The Ghosts of Belfast is not for those who will easily be given nightmares, but if you want to read a really good novel about a really dark subject, then you won't find one that's better.