Books: Secrets and lives of a hotel

The International by Glenn Patterson Anchor pounds 9.99

Glenn Patterson set himself high standards with his 1988 debut, Burning Your Own. The novel was set on a Belfast housing estate in 1969 and, with humour and compassion, Patterson managed to take in the whole of an unstable society through the eyes and experiences of a 10-year- old narrator. Without stating the obvious, political or historical, Patterson explored how ordinary individuals were affected, or infected, by the troubled events.

The International, his fourth novel, is less turbulent but no less accomplished, and Patterson's perspective remains wry and humane. Set in Belfast's International Hotel in January 1967, its intentions are clear from the first line of Danny the barman's narration: "If I had known history was to be written that Sunday in The International Hotel I might have made an effort to get out of bed before tea time." That Sunday was the day the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association held its inaugural meeting in the hotel, setting in motion the peaceful protests which then sparked the sectarian violence. But Danny phoned in sick.

What we get is an account of his previous day's work, the unwitting day before history was written: 14 hours in which he fell in love twice, sparred with his colleagues and served regulars and shoppers, loners and losers, dodgy dealers and wedding guests. Patterson is a master of casual, comic description and The International delivers its visual detail with the economy of a screenplay. Danny moves around the hotel's interior like a roving camera. Snippets of conversations drift into his internal monologue; characters loom briefly into view, their gestures and actions noted with precision; his customers are scanned from his vantage point behind the bar. The lightness of Patterson's writing conceals a vice-like grip on the movement and plotting. But such is the bombardment of snapshot images and mixed-up thoughts - not to mention the errands, mundane and bizarre, and endless pint-pouring - that to reach the end of the novel, and of Danny's shift, is something of a relief.

Intertwined with this real-time narrative, there are biographies of characters that would not go amiss in a short-story collection: Stanley, the young and lonely puppet-show entertainer, who dreams of a season at Butlins; Ingrid, the young and mysterious photographer who gatecrashes her ex-lover's wedding; and Clive, Danny's shady cousin, who's at the centre of an elaborate business scam. Patterson makes every one of their secrets and lives count as they brush past each other in the International's bars and corridors, without letting the intricacies of their connections obstruct the fluid narrative. The sum of The International's parts is an almost disrespectful elegy, a living, breathing document of the lives of ordinary losers and of making-doers before irrevocable change.

But momentous events don't come out of nowhere. With a matter-of-factness that's both unobtrusive and unsettling, Patterson drip-feeds the reader the context: Ian Paisley was "a joke that became less funny each time you heard it"; "it was news to most people that there was enough of an IRA to splinter"; the first shots in the UVF's war against the IRA were aimed at four of the International's Catholic barmen the previous year. One of them, Peter Ward, died. This was a real event, and a real person; Patterson makes Ward's replacement Danny, working alongside staff unable to account for Ward's tragic absence. By the end, Patterson has quietly achieved a feat that is touching and honourable. Fictional it may be, but The International is a slice of the life that Ward would have known. With a debt of sadness, Patterson has written Peter Ward back into history - the time before other people's history really started.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution