McNamee, Eoin - 'Blue is the Night'
1949 Belfast, Malone Road
BLUE IS THE NIGHT is the third book by Irish writer Eoin McNamee to re-conjure historical events of the 1950s and 60s surrounding Northern Ireland High Court Judge and Ulster Unionist parliamentarian, Major Sir Lancelot Ernest Curran. The first two books in this loose trilogy are Booker-nominated BLUE TANGO, centring on the murder of Lance Curran's nineteen year old daughter Patricia in 1952, and ORCHID BLUE about the 1962 trial presided over by Judge Curran - of Robert McGladdery, the last man to be hanged in Northern Ireland.
This third novel's circuitous time structure requires some concentration. It centres upon the 1949 trial of Robert Taylor for the violent murder of a respectable Catholic housewife, but it also revisits 1952 - the year of Patricia Curran's murder - and the very early 1960s with Doris Curran an inmate of the mental institution which she entered shortly after the death of her daughter Patricia and where she remained for the rest of her life. In addition the novel manages a few time points before and between. But stick with it. It will be worth it.
We follow Harry Ferguson's attempts to finesse Lance Curran's involvement in the controversial 1949 murder trial in order to preserve the his political and legal career. McNamee writes a disturbing but convincing portrait of Robert Taylor, the charming and callous "accused". He also paints a precocious, rebellious, teen-aged Patricia, Curran's daughter, who skips school to attend the trial. In the 1960s section, McNamee's writing of the changes that overcome the older Doris as she is inhabited by her interior personalities is striking and chilling.
In all, this book is absorbing in its evocation of its characters. But it is the book's elliptical structure that allows McNamee to focus once more on the murder of Curran's daughter (a mystery never truly solved despite the subsequent trial of young airman Iain Hay Gordon, his discrete release six years later and eventual pardon in 2000). And also enables McNamee to examine the pervasive nature of corruption, a subject that fascinates him. The result is a dark portrait of political and psychological corruption emerging from historical events. I am also sure that the novel's style and structure would enable one to read it and to return to an earlier part of the trilogy without difficulty. It is as if BLUE IS THE NIGHT is written as just one of a set of mirrors displaying different aspects of a reflected subject. Written in a distinctive, clear, almost poetic prose that I found a pleasure to read, this book and its writer Eoin McNamee is a class act in the school of re-imagining past events.
Lynn Harvey, England