It’s a strange feeling being displaced. I now live in Canada with my beautiful wife and I absolutely adore this country. It’s open and tolerant populace and the variety of restaurants, the scenery and I love the cold harshness of Winter. I still find it captivating and fresh and magical. It’s a place which is so very different from my home of Northern Ireland, I come from a historically and culturally troubled place. It’s almost impossible to explain to Canadians who have never visited my home. When they do, they are almost invariably shocked. Recently I have been feeling more and more displaced, perhaps it’s due to a lot of my old cultural understandings being swept away. Maybe it’s the ongoing political turmoil I catch when occasionally listening to Radio Ulster or perhaps I no longer recognise who I was anymore.
Andy Luke brought a lot of these feelings to the surface with his evocative and powerful prose. It’s authentic Northern Ireland, I recognise these characters and I understand them and sometimes, by G-d I wish I didn’t. Within the pages of this novel there’s a facing up to who we are as a society. How ludicrous we are at times and how deep down we know it, despite all our bluster and bravado. We Northern Irish are a broken and demented society at heart. Andy’s prose reminds me of Roddy Doyle with it’s sense of authenticity and be warned for those who don’t speak my native dialect, you may been a translator on hand (which I am willing to provide, for a small price of course)
The story follows some working class Protestant lads who are embarking on a ‘cultural expedition’ to explore the supposed heritage of the Irish connection to the Lost tribe of Dan. This is essentially what British Israelism is concerned with and it’s explanation is peppered throughout the dialogue of the book. These lads come from Belfast City where they escape reality by taking drugs, drinking and taking their dole (unemployment money). They have no ambition, prospects and no understanding of what life is like outside their cultural bubble.
Their story is told in a humorous yet unshirking manner. They are not the ‘heroes’ of the story in the traditional sense. The writer however makes them the voice of reason in the narrative. Their comments in the midst of the delusional religious voices of the middle class who surround them during this trip are more relatable and truthful. Andy squarely has his gaze on the disservice which the ultra religious Protestant leaders have done to the working class in the inner city. Keeping them wilfully ignorant and subjecting them to a one sided education. There is less of the truth of Christ present in the lectures of the religious characters in the book and more about the ‘Protestant ascendancy’. The right for the Protestant to be more privileged than their Catholic neighbours.
When our protagonists venture to the Republic of Ireland, a few short hours journey by train. It’s like they have entered a different world, there’s the touch of fear which accompanies them and perhaps a little excitement at the sense of the exotic. I remember all these feelings as a young boy when my cultural bubble burst and I headed to Dublin for the first time. I have an Indian model to thank for that, she showed me around Dublin and it’s nightlife, a real initiation experience and cultural awakening.
I highly recommend this book, it’s clever and witty, strightforward and at times disturbing. It doesn’t mock the subject matter but attempts to understand it. I can sense the authors frustration at the lack of change within Northern Irish culture and the further entrenchment of certain cultural values which would be impossible to hold in other western countries. Truly Northern Ireland is a unique place, it’s still a place I love but through reading this text I realise that it’s a place I can no longer belong to.