Entertainment Books

Sunday 17 November 2019

No short cuts in Patterson's pub crawl through Belfast's edgy past

The Rest Just Follows, Glenn Patterson, Faber & Faber, £12.99

AT REST: Glenn Patterson’s novel follows three schoolchildren on their journey to adulthood. Photo: William Cherry/Press Eye
AT REST: Glenn Patterson’s novel follows three schoolchildren on their journey to adulthood. Photo: William Cherry/Press Eye

Barbara Clinton

In the end, Maxine finds herself back where she started, or as the author says, "starting again". A young, handsome letting agent shows her around a vacant space that she recognises as having once been home to a hairdressing salon. Decades earlier, she walked in there a frilly-bloused girl to emerge hours later having been seduced by handsome hairdresser Max, and proudly in possession of one of his edgier punkier creations. She was on her way.

The Rest Just Follows, on some levels, is the story of three Belfast school kids as they set off on the road to adulthood. Such stories are important to author Glenn Patterson.

"I have always felt that there is a need to provide other narratives," Patterson recently told BBC 4's Open Book: Literary Landscapes programme. "It's been very, very difficult to escape the two main narratives of this place [Belfast] – broadly speaking the republican and loyalist or unionist ones; and it's very, very, very hard to infiltrate other stories, but fiction does that brilliantly."

As the story opens, our chief protagonists, Maxine, Craig and St John (Singin) are off to secondary school and on the threshold of 'real' life – drink, girls/boys, hairdos – all the while negotiating the domestic and security apparatus particular to their lives.

In pursuit of a good time and growing up, they somehow view the 'real' Belfast around them as though from the corner of an eye, and with all the nonchalance of teenagers anywhere.

And for us on this side of the border used to viewing Belfast down the narrow barrel of a TV camera trained on the aftermath of some or other explosive mayhem, Patterson provides a fuller and richer, if less dramatic, picture in this novel.

But they are not impervious to their place. And just like the grown-ups, they have their tribes and allegiances, their uniforms and totems, their loves and losses, loyalties and betrayals. The loss of a local mini-market to a bomb attack creates a new shortcut over which Maxine's brother, Tommy, can now chase his prey, Craig, whose crime is a blazer with a school crest.

But Tommy soon finds himself on the run from paramilitaries who think his mouth is too big. He goes and stays gone, only returning briefly for his father's funeral.

Our heroes do well, Maxine falls into a business partnership; Singin becomes a daytime television sensation and Craig's opinions are sought out by the less physical political elements of a certain hue.

But in the end, they are as riven by the real world as any around them.

They betray each other in the small schoolyard things and in the larger things of adult life. As we travel with them from pre-teen to middle age, we discover with them, that they and theirs are as fallible as anyone else.

We also discover the Belfast bar and at times The Rest Just Follows is a sort of pub crawl. Patterson is concerned about the loss of civic life that resulted when these social meeting places became terrorist targets in the 1970s. Anyone who knows Belfast will tell you Lavery's, the Washington and Robinsons are 'mixed' bars but that does not save them from the emptiness that Patterson shows so well in this novel.

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