Wounds, Fergal Keane
No prizes for guessing that this was a dense read. As one of our readers put it, “It’s not quite a history book, and not quite a memoir” but it feels overall as if we were being educated more than entertained.
That said, all of us recognised the painstaking labour that has gone into this book. Keane is working with not very much source material, snippets of family lore, and incomplete records. He admirably manages to walk a middle path delicately through a very raw and antagonistic part of Irish history.
The brutality and random callousness of the violence is most striking, it seems you don’t have to do much wrong to become a victim, sadly an attribute that runs right through Irish history. Some drew parallels with Vietnam and other guerrilla wars where families are divided.
Whilst Keane keeps much of his own opinion in check, he does convey in some key phrases just how pointless and misguided the Civil War, in fact any war, becomes. “Politics is always an option. Always.” And he notes how the first discipline to break down in any civil disobedience often starts with a breakdown within the family unit.
Criticisms levelled at the book included : -
- the frequent flashbacks to different moments of history make the narrative seem disjointed, plus very slow to build into the civil war.
- The sense that he was creating a story out of hearsay, without enough personal ‘Fergal Keane’ memoir.
- Brutal and ultimately profoundly sad.
Whilst this would be a hard book to claim as enjoyable, I think all those present would agree it has left us more educated about this period in history, and more respecting of Keane as a historian with great sensitivity to human failing which is present not only in domestic and family life, but which also impacts critically so many war situations.
As we discussed this in the week of Clive James’s death, a man who usually had a pithy comment on most things, I enjoyed this quote which came up online and thought it applied well to ‘Wounds’:
“People don’t get their morality from their reading matter, they bring their morality to it”
Keane’s skill is absolutely this, he is not our moraliser, he simply brings the facts to our attention and lays them out to demonstrate his points.