A com­ing-of-age de­but set in early 1980s Derry tackles the Trou­bles with hu­mour and com­pas­sion

The Guardian - Review - - Fiction - Cathi Unsworth

Derry, Fe­bru­ary 1981: a closeknit bunch of teenagers are get­ting their kicks in the dingy Cave club, where the city’s as­sorted tribes ex­per­i­ment with il­licit sub­stances and snog to the heady sounds of post-punk, ska and dub. Liz, her brother Paddy, Orla, Sinéad, Noel and Christy are all about to take ex­ams, leave home, get se­ri­ous. Liz’s boyfriend Kevin is older, a man with a shad­owy history; Orla’s Peter is a new flame.

But events be­yond this haven are about to take con­trol of the nar­ra­tive. In­side the nearby Maze prison, the repub­li­can hunger strike is gets un­der­way. Out­side, in streets oc­cu­pied by the Bri­tish army, ri­ots are fo­mented. Paddy and Christy are drawn into nightly skir­mishes, the hor­monal rush of the ac­tion as much of a buzz as their phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­per­i­ments. Kevin, whose youth­ful dis­sent led to disaster, runs into a face from the past who at­tempts to lure him back. When the strike leader Bobby Sands is read the last rites on Good Fri­day, the Catholic city rises.

Though the ti­tle is rem­i­nis­cent of re­cent punk mem­oirs by Viv Al­ber­tine and Cosey Fanni Tutti, none of the char­ac­ters is try­ing to use mu­sic as a way out of a city be­set by un­em­ploy­ment, poverty and sec­tar­ian strife. In­stead, this is an ex­am­i­na­tion of the tu­mul­tuous ef­fects of re­cent history on the gen­er­a­tion who came of age dur­ing the po­lit­i­cally toxic early 80s within its most ex­plo­sive ter­rain – for which the work of Gang of Four, Lin­ton Kwesi John­son, the Ban­shees and the Spe­cials makes a bril­liantly il­lus­tra­tive sound­track. With the re­cent Derry Girls TV se­ries and Milk­man win­ning the Man Booker, North­ern Ire­land is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cul­tural resur­gence.

This de­but marks out Quigley as a writer of com­pas­sion and hu­mour. She not only demon­strates how easy it is to be swept into hot-blooded ac­tions that have chill­ing reper­cus­sions, she also draws a wider pic­ture of poverty and fa­mil­ial dys­func­tion. Her clever, mul­ti­ple-nar­ra­tive ac­count of the way a com­mu­nity is af­fected by a young­ster go­ing for a night out and never com­ing home il­lus­trates why the Un­der­tones, formed in Derry, sang so pas­sion­ately about nor­mal teenage thrills. by Geral­dine Quigley, Fig Tree, £12.99

To buy Mu­sic Drugs Love War for £11.43 go to guardian­book­shop.com or call 0330 333 6846.

Mu­sic Love Drugs War

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