Since its release in early 2019, Patrick Radden Keefe’s book “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland ” has received non-stop critical acclaim and for good reason. The book reads like a captivating fiction novel yet it follows a true story of several people involved in the decades of violence that permeated Northern Ireland in the second half of the 20th century.
“Say Nothing” chronicles the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland between Republican Catholics and Unionist Protestants that resulted in decades of violence that still impacts the country decades later. Keefe follows several characters throughout the course of the book as they each took part in the conflict. Among this expansive cast of characters include several figures from both sides of the conflict as well as those unfortunate to have been caught in the middle. Even though the book follows several characters, two stand out as the clear focus of the narrative: Jean McConville, a single mother of 10 children who was abducted by the Provisional IRA, and Dolours Price, an outspoken republican and member of the PIRA who became an icon of the movement. The book follows these Belfast natives as their lives follow two distinct and conflicting paths that overlap and impact the country decades after the conflict’s conclusion.
Though it chronicles the conflict throughout its decade long duration and follows several characters and events throughout; “Say Nothing” never loses sight of its central mystery that kick-starts the book. Keefe investigates and reports on the true cold case of whatever happened to Jean McConville after she was abducted in 1972. He does an exceptional job of reporting on the facts of the case as well as exploring the greater narrative of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Through its detailed account of the environment in Northern Ireland and the players involved in the conflict, the book provides insightful context to the case. Even more impressive is that Keefe manages to arrive at several enlightening conclusions with regards to the fate of Jean McConville and who was involved in her disappearance.
Keefe’s writing from beginning to end is another achievement of its own. Never once did the book feel like a history textbook that simply provided dates and events. Instead he delivers history as if it were a novel and manages to make every character featured feel real and personal and not just another name on a page. He includes firsthand accounts of bombings and arrests to make every page feel authentic and personal. Furthermore, he presents the complicated history of the conflict in a way as to not overwhelm readers and make it understandable and accessible to those unaware of the history involved. He even manages to remain objective in his recounting of the conflict, never shying away from depicting the cruelty of both the republicans and unionists while also respectfully presenting the viewpoints of either side.
“Say Nothing” is an exceptional read as it provides an honest account of a conflict that plagued Northern Ireland for three decades. His attention to detail and ability to present decades of violence in a digestible and captivating book speaks volumes to Keefe’s ability as a writer. His presentation of individual firsthand accounts of the conflict as well as the investigation into a decades old cold case is a thrill to read. As Keefe unravels the truth behind the McConville case and unearths forgotten testimonies and firsthand accounts, his conclusions and implications are astonishing and make “Say Nothing” an impactful and important historical read.
Verdict: “Say Nothing” is a fantastic account of a decades long conflict that engulfed Northern Ireland. Written in a captivating way that captures the reader’s attention, Patrick Radden Keefe presents the history of the Troubles in a respectful way that provides a new and impactful perspective on a complicated topic.