Violence, History and Bourgeois Fiction
And now, as he watched television beside his wife-to-be (and son-to-be), Chuckie listened to a variety of people tell him that the Troubles were at an end. Peace had come at last. The war was over.
Then Chuckie lit on what he had been clumsily attempting to think: What war? No one he knew had been fighting.
Robert McLiam Wilson, Eureka Street1
Just as recent criticism about representations of Northern Ireland in cinema has often found itself caught between expectation and disappointment, between a weary recognition of what exists and a more optimistic awareness of the possibilities of what might be, so criticism of Northern Irish prose fiction has found itself similarly in limbo. Indeed, as with those readings of Northern Irish cinema that perceive it as a coherent object of study, the critical framework of response most commonly adhered to when considering Northern Irish fiction is one that identifies a previous surfeit of stereotypical (usually foreign) representations of the place and, as a consequence, calls for an indigenous tradition to assert itself, one capable of offering more authentic (or, as I shall discuss, ‘realistic’) narratives. For Eve Patten, in her survey ‘Fiction in Conflict: The North's Prodigal Novelists’, 2 the new novelists she identifies write against ‘received images of Northern Irish society from British, Irish or American sources’, while for Gerry Smyth, the kind of Northern Ireland previously imagined in the ‘Troubles thriller’ ‘tends towards melodrama and a sort of voyeuristic violence in which stock characters and images are recycled in more or less disabling ways’. 3 In opposition to this his demands are clear: ‘the novelistic imagination in Northern Ireland must surely be concerned with developing new languages and new perspectives, precisely to break out of the orthodoxies which have fed and sustained the conflict’. 4