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This Human Season Hardcover – February 5, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Set in Belfast during the Troubles, Dean's accomplished second novel (after Becoming Strangers) is an affecting and well-researched depiction of the political and social strife of Northern Ireland in the winter of 1979. John Dunne, a 20-year veteran of the British army, takes a job as a prison guard at Belfast's Maze prison and is assigned to work in the squalid high-security block where the most hardened IRA inmates are engaged in a protest they call the Blanket (the inmates refuse to wear clothes and smear their feces on the cell walls—one enterprising pair "paints" a fireplace). A newly arrived inmate, Sean Moran, imprisoned for his part in the bombing death of a policeman, becomes pivotal in the plan to take the protest to the next level. On the outside, Sean's mother, Kathleen, struggles to raise her remaining children while British soldiers routinely search her house for weapons, and John grows close with his adult illegitimate son. The possibility of violence is ever-present, especially for John, whose job makes him a target on and off the clock. Dean writes strong characters and provides a sympathetic rendering of both sides of the conflict, making for a powerful and memorable novel. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The stench of human excrement greets 22-year-old John Dunn when in late 1979 he reports for his first shift as a guard on the "protest blocks" at Belfast's Maze prison, where the "politicals" are lucky to have a blanket in cells so cold they see their breath. Principal Officer Bolton runs the place by the book and remarks that these prisoners' religion isn't Catholicism, it's suffering: "They're good at being oppressed." One inmate has died on a hunger strike, the situation in the prison has "deteriorated into a deadlock," and rumors fly, through and beyond the Maze, of another major strike looming. Dean, born after the era she depicts, presents Northern Ireland's troubles at their height, groups of small boys routinely spending afternoons "gathering stones for the evening's rioting," and an inmate such as the novel's Sean Moran becoming a force in the protest. She captures the sounds and textures of the time and place with compelling power as she precisely limns two young men and their families striving for freedom. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
We see two families, one on the British Protestant side of the Northern Irish divide and one on the Irish Catholic side, each looking for connections with loved ones that will not run dry nor be destroyed by outer events well out of their control.
The central character is an English soldier, John Dunn, who has chosen to live in Northern Ireland out of preference. He meets a local woman and makes a home with her, working a well-paid but almost untenable job as a prison guard on the H-Blocks of the Maze Prison in 1979, during the blanket protest that will soon give way to the IRA hunger strike.
Describing a Northern Ireland of a not-that-distant past, the novel is a perceptive and sensitive moment in modern fiction, one that draws clean lines, sometimes painfully so, of 1970s Belfast personalities, dreams, and inner as well as outer conflict.
- Caroline Oceana Ryan, author - AN OLD CASTLE STANDING ON A FORD: One Yank's Life in an Almost Peaceful Belfast (Eloquent Books, 2010)
Dean doesn't take sides in "The Troubles" - she follows two main characters who never meet: Kathleen, a vibrant, complex Northern Irish mother with a drunken husband and an older son in prison who is on strike and threatening to go on hunger strike; and John, a British soldier who takes a job as a prison guard with no idea what he is getting into. The conditions in the prison are a shock both to the guards and to the prisoners (and even more so to this reader). As you follow the plot and see how people are sucked into this awful violence unable to find a way out, it gives profound insights into human nature and the ethical questions we can face. Knowing that ultimately some modicum of peace will eventually be found gives you hope but there is so much mindless suffering to come before that occurs. I highly recommend this book.
in Ireland. This book is for anyone who would like an ensight of
what the meaning of "political prisoners" (fictional but accurate),
what led to the hunger strike in "the maze"
Desperate for public attention for their modest demands, which have been ignored, they are about to engage in a hunger strike, the pivotal event for the action here. Putting a human face on the turmoil, the novel focuses on two families--the Morans, whose teenage son Sean has been sentenced to sixteen years at Long Kesh, and John Dunn, a 39-year-old former British soldier who has just started work as a guard. Dunn has recently connected with the British son he never knew, born out of wedlock, a young man about the same age as Sean Moran. Dean uses parallel scenes (most touchingly, at Christmas) to show how much, on the human level, these two families have in common.
Dean illustrates the conditions and the thinking of the time as the minimal plot unfolds. Kathleen Moran, Sean's mother, becomes involved with the Relatives Action Committee. Their local priest is at odds with some other priests because he supports the hunger strike and protest. Sinn Fein is represented both inside and outside the prison, and one prisoner, who maintains IRA control within the prison, also directs retaliatory murders on guards outside the prison, in their own homes or neighborhoods.
Historical events are paramount, more than just a framework for the novel, and the reader develops a sense of horror about these events. There is little sense of identification with characters, however. The hard-case attitudes of the prisoners allow little room for character development, and the many guards, while having individual quirks, are not well differentiated. The character who comes closest to capturing the reader's interest is Dunn, but the author creates such obvious forboding about his fate and that of the other guards that many readers will be wary of becoming involved. Though the characters here are vehicles through whom information is conveyed, rather than a focus of the novel for their own sakes, Dean creates a powerful picture of seminal events--certain to interest many students of Irish history. n Mary Whipple