This spacious history of the last 25 years in Northern Ireland is what the author calls 'a tragedy in endless acts'. It is based on years of research and thousands of interviews, and the result is the depressing conclusion that there is no conclusion. Books aiming to be the last word rarely manage to be both authoritative and readable, but Bowyer Bell's lifelong engagement with the subject gives his its absorbing and poignant depth.
TITANIC TOWN: Memoirs of a Belfast Girlhood, Mary Costello, Mandarin, pounds 5.99
The author grew up in Catholic West Belfast, but her recollections are by no means confined to bitter memories of sectarian strife. When violence arrives, it comes as a shocking disruption of the usual rites of passage. Schoolchildren send suggestive valentines during maths lessons; 11-year- old girls quiz each other about where babies come from. And then suddenly the author's brother gets a hatchet in the back of his head.
WE ARE THE PEOPLE, Geoffrey Beattie, Mandarin, pounds 5.99
Beattie's book is 'a journey to the heart of Protestant Ulster', and though it is a going it a bit to talk about the heart, he has certainly explored the salient features of this community. He emphasises the friendliness of those he meets, sometimes allowing the excellent reporting to be subverted a little by a sentimental strand about his own homecoming. Above all, he is shocked by the way people have accomodated the troubles in their lives, and doesn't mind casting himself as an innocent abroad in being struck and baffled by this over and over again.
GIRL, NAME FORGOTTEN, John A Oliver, Littlewood, pounds 6.95
These tender short stories are fuelled by a sharp historical awareness and a strong sense of family-feeling - the very things, we might say, that dog all attempts to bring peace to the north of Ireland. But the author is a poignant storyteller, and these brief vignettes are full of strange details and odd incidents.
THE ECONOMY OF NORTHERN IRELAND, Edited by Paul Teague, Lawrence and Wishart, pounds 14.99
The nine essays in this anthology are not very stylish, but they do include a substantial weight of details and comments on the performance of Northern Ireland's economy. It is hard not to feel, though, that a great deal of its scrupulous, jargon-filled analysis is beside the point. The sectarian divisions in the province, we learn, 'have a strong spatial dimension' and 'further distort the commerical landscape'. Is this a useful or interesting way to discuss political and religious violence? Surely not.
TOUCH AND GO by Sam McAughtry, Blackstaff, pounds 6.95
The author was once an RAF navigator, and he brings to his depiction of post-war Belfast an unnerving sense of direction. The hero is a former bomber pilot struggling to find his feet in a peaceful (ha-ha) world, but he slides into an unhappy mess of treachery and violence. The novel has few flourishes: the prose just marches on in straight lines. But it provides a clear glimpse of a fallen world which was soon to fall even further.