Grim tale of a young man’s return to Northern Ireland during the troubled years of the early ’90s.
Derry is a bleak industrial town in Ulster that has seen better days in just about every sense. Sharply divided socially and politically between Protestants and Catholics, it is the largest city in Northern Ireland after Belfast and the home of some of the worst sectarian violence during the Troubles. For that reason alone, it’s a good place to leave, but O’Reilly’s antihero Niall seems to have had more personal motives for going away. A Derry native in his early 30s, Niall has just returned home after an absence of several years abroad. Why did he come back? Mainly because, in Italy, he broke up with his girlfriend Valeria. Why did he leave in the first place? That’s a good deal murkier. Niall’s brother Michael has never forgiven him for leaving—and he was appalled that Niall wouldn’t come back for their father’s funeral. For his part, Niall seems strangely lacking in bitterness or passion of any kind. He recalls his old girlfriends (many) with occasional regret but no real longing; he drinks fiercely out of what appears to be boredom rather than despair; he argues with his old friend Danny but seems untroubled by any strong opinions of his own. His present girlfriend, Lorna, is a rather humorless socialist who takes Niall to meetings and demonstrations, but her commitment shows no signs of rubbing off on him. In fact, if Niall has any belief at all, it seems to be a kind of 1980s nihilism—a broad contempt for society at large, combined with a vague conviction that political life is meaningless. This might well be a plausible response to life in Northern Ireland today—but it doesn’t make for much of a story.
Relentlessly gray and lifeless, more a portrait than a tale.