Ceasefire at home

ONE BY ONE IN THE DARKNESS by Deirdre Madden, Faber pounds 14.99

This ambitious and wide-ranging novel explores the difficulties and uncertainties faced by three women as they reach their mid-thirties. The eldest of the Quinn sisters, Helen, is a solicitor in Belfast handling tough criminal and terrorist cases; Cate is a beautiful, poised and successful fashion journalist living in London; Sally, the youngest, has stayed at home, a teacher in the local school all the girls once attended. In this skilfully constructed novel, episodes from the sisters' childhood in an affectionate farming family in Northern Ireland in the 1960s - into which the Troubles erupt with bewildering violence - are spliced between chapters concerning the complexities of their adult lives during the course of one week, just before the start of the IRA ceasefire in 1994.

The book begins with the homecoming of Cate, the sister who has strayed furthest from the family both geographically and socially, adopting a fashionable, hectic life in London as an escape from the parochialism of Northern Ireland. Pregnant and abandoned by her lover, she seeks the reassurance and certainty associated with her childhood. But the home she returns to is itself deeply troubled, following the brutal murder two years earlier of Cate's father by Loyalist paramilitaries who'd mistaken him for his brother, an active Republican.

Deirdre Madden could hardly have published One by One in the Darkness at a better time, with every news bulletin filled with details of the wrangling about political developments in Northern Ireland, often in rhetoric which seems designed to obscure the lived experience behind the sloganeering. The significance of much of the writing that has emerged from Northern Ireland over the last 30 years is the way in which, at its best, it can ground subjective, "ordinary" experiences within an understanding of historical events, restoring richness to etiolated debates.

Anyone wondering why the Nationalist community might view British intentions with suspicion would do well to read Madden's chapters recording the arrival of British troops in the province. One Saturday lunchtime two soldiers take up position in the front room to interrogate the family, demanding personal details of the adults and the three young girls, right down to the name of their dog. Deirdre Madden integrates these disturbing scenes into the everyday concerns of childhood, demonstrating how political upheavals are lived out in ordinary lives.

She is particularly good at the way in which the past constructs the present, how intense memories transfigure current experience: "Standing in the silent luxury of her own wardrobe, Cate remembered with uncanny vividness her grandmother's room: the crocheted bedspread, the rain on the window, a scent of violets and dust."

Compared with the rich inventiveness of the earlier scenes, the 1994 passages sometimes feel flat and predictable. Of the sisters, Cate is the most complex and fully realised, whereas Helen's cold detachment seems forced, and Sally's passive attachment to the family home is merely sketched in. It's as though, having decided on the magic number of three sisters, Madden has handed them the equivalent characteristics of the three caskets, a schematic division which sits oddly in a novel which elsewhere strives for the authenticity of a quiet and effective psychological realism.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada