Review: A Traitor in the Family – Nicholas Searle

A Traitor In The Family Nicholas SearleMy version: Hardback
Genre: Fiction Northern Ireland, Ireland, The Troubles
Viking (Penguin Random House)
First published: 2017
Bought, signed

From the cover:

While her husband prepared to murder a young man he had never met, Bridget O’Neill was completing her arrangements for Christmas with her in-laws. 

Francis O’Neill is a terrorist, trained to kill for his cause. Bridget is his wife, expected to be loyal and stand by her husband. She has learned not to hope for much more, until the day she glimpses, for the first time, the chance of a new life. A life without the violence, without secrets and without knocks on the door in the dead of night. A life without her husband.

But what if freedom for Bridget means grave danger for Francis?

In ‘A Traitor In The Family’ best-selling author Nicholas Searle tells a story of shocking, intimate betrayal. Can a treacherous act of the most personal kind ever be, in this darkly violent world, an act of mercy?

Well, I seem to have a higher regard for this book than a few of the high profile reviews I’ve seen, which have fairly dismissed the book for a lack of understanding of the ‘Irish Problem.’

I thought it dealt pretty well with the two sides involved in The Struggles, both the Irish Northern and Southern who wanted/still want, a United Ireland and their reasons – Britain – for doing so. And the British, holier than thou attitude to them, and their reasons for having that attitude -tradition and the Unionists.

A Traitor In The Family signatureI was alive (!) all the way through the ’70s, which were the years of the troubles covered here. I was out in Birmingham when the pub bombs went off. I’ve been in the underground pub which was blown up, and the idea of a bomb going off down there, is something the mind recoils from. What the reviews miss, and what politicians miss, is the general feeling I got, that the man in the street in Britain, maybe less so now that the troubles may be behind us, wouldn’t have minded if ‘they’ towed Northern Ireland out into the middle of the Atlantic and left it there. Some would have recommended sinking it of course. Just so it would go away. That Unionists wanted to be a part of the UK – well, they should remember that ‘we’ didn’t want them. Let the Irish have the place, I’m sure an Irish Govt would look after the place better than a British one. Whether the IRA, etc, would want to be under and Irish Government of the sort that is/was in power in the south, is something else entirely.

I didn’t realise that Searle was an Intelligence man, and can sympathise with The Guardian on the point that some of the judgements on both side are a little simplistic. But maybe the Grauniad is missing that he’s only describing the people here, in this book. I never got the feeling that he was trying to write a book that would define all aspects of the situation.

The main character(s) are IRA man Francis O’Neill and his wife Bridget. They are done very well, I thought. Of course as an IRA man, unrepentant and driven, as a Brit, you can’t sympathise with his motives. But I will defy anyone not to feel his anguish at finding the world has changed around him and his sticking to the principles he thought he was fighting for, when confronted with the new realpolitik world his ‘boss’ “Gentleman Joe” Geraghty has moved into. I will admit to some sympathy and a shaking of the head, at the end of his story. Bridget’s hopes for her future, are actually dashed when she falls for Francis, but she doesn’t see it that way at the time. Her recruitment (happens early on, so it’s not a spoiler), you can see coming and understand. Her loyalty to Francis also was well done, as I didn’t really expect it to be so. What I got from both, was a feeling that they knew they were trapped, too far in to their lives, would like to get out, but were afraid to and so couldn’t break free. They need a push, but will they get it? Is she the traitor in the family? I wasn’t sure she was…

In the end, as Francis experiences in his physical world, it is about being imprisoned. His imprisonment is also mental, in the world he has entered, there is no time off for good behaviour, no parole and once inside, the only release, is death. Bridget is likewise imprisoned with Francis in his world, because of Francis and all that his world represents. She is watched over by the other family members and other wives and girlfriends, as securely as if she was in The Maze herself.

On the whole, it lead up to a period of looking like it was going to be really tense and really nail-biting, but didn’t really get there. There is a lot of it under the surface, for anyone who was around at the time, and should have been a whole lot more tense to really hit home hard. However, it is well worth reading, and I am going to say ‘try it’ I think you’ll get a lot from it.

You can buy A Traitor In The Family from The Book Depository

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