Both Your Houses by James Barlow (Hamish Hamilton £2.00)
THERE still seem to be
some people who reeand "novel-reading" as a light pastime. more often than not enjoyed as "escape." One can put such ideas firmly aside before turning the vivid dust-jacket of this book. With Northern Ireland, and particularly Belfast, as the stage. the young Romeo a British Army private from back-street Birmingham, and his Juliet daughter of an unemployed Roman Catholic lifelong member of the' I.R.A., we shall hardly expect a lyrical smooth-running romance.
What we get is a violent and painful story, punctuated by the noise and misery of the Ulster scene. We, who have become used to daily bulletins of strife and tragedy in Northern Ireland, get from this book a sharper close-up of the potential personal conflicts and almost petty provocations which can start a street battle than we could get from mass media. Allowing for the heightening of personal drama in the marriage of his doomed pair, the author somehow imparts to the whole book the ring of truth : every event and dialogue has credibility.
Characters of all attitudes and situations are shown with compassion and understanding, caught as they are in this most complex and half-blind war.
I should think we could all do without the stroke-by-stroke love-making of the bridal pair. Goodness knows enough else was happening, which, thank God. don't happen every day — including attempted killings
by children, bus-firing, almost ritual stoning.
The marriage of the unhappy pair was seen as betrayal by both "sides."
The unhappy bride of the doomed marriage is considered to have insulted her family. One hopes that at least the account of their punishment to her owes something to dramatic invention — with a dash of melodrama.