Books: A darkly comic love for the North
Non-Fiction: Here's Me Here - Further Reflections of a Lapsed Protestant, Glenn Patterson, New Island Books, pbk, 204 pages, €19.50
I was recently on a media panel where, before we went on-air, we discussed the week's events including some conservative utterances of Ulster Unionist politicians. A dismissal of DUP statements on gays and abortion soon descended into a dismissal of Ulster Protestants in general, as backward, confused, 'not really British or Irish' and, in many ways, basically half-Scottish!
It was an incredible dismissal of an entire ethnic group but it spoke volumes about the depth of ignorance and non-curiosity in the Republic about Northern Ireland, and its actual culture.
The encounter is one about which Glenn Patterson would have much to say, and he touches on its elements here. An urbane humanitarian, Patterson aims for the very centre of the spectrum in Northern Ireland and skewers the two tribal extremes, but not without some wry respect and even affection.
From a modest Protestant background, he eschews Paisley as much as the Provos, but also the ignorance about the North, from outsiders, including ourselves. Most of all, he celebrates living in the North, with his family, just as he had grown up there, in Belfast.
Patterson offers a welcome and darkly comic perspective on the post-Troubles atmosphere - he rightly scorns the use of the by now jaded and nonsensical phrase 'peace process' - but also on many other issues from further afield. In a clear and engaging style, he combines the intellectual with the streetwise, and makes references to philosophers and literary theorists as easily as to punk rock, football and political culture. And most importantly, he continues to display, in all of his books, a great affection for his place of birth and upbringing.
This affection has been evident in his novels - Fat Lad, Burning Your Own, The International - and it is evident here in a second collection of non-fiction writings, which are mostly brief articles and essays from sources as diverse as the Guardian, Economist and the Yellow Nib literary journal magazine.
Scottish independence, the European Union, Manchester United, the Northern Bank Robbery - all are subject to his droll interrogation. In a lovely essay about his beloved Undertones, the band from Derry are asked why they didn't assume mid-Atlantic accents to increase their popular appeal. But we never met anyone who lived in the mid-Atlantic, they replied.
It's a lovely response, and, for some reason, it seems a fitting echo of Patterson's own determination to resist pigeonholing but also to explore other realms of identity and culture.
I will be heartily recommending him to North-averse readers everywhere.