The Truth Commissioner, By David Park

On 28 January 2008, one week before the publication of The Truth Commissioner, Ian Paisley, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, announced the appointment of four Victims Commissioners. They included Patricia McBride, whose brother was an IRA man shot dead by the SAS, and Bertha McDougall, whose RUC reservist husband had been shot dead by the INLA. Responding to suggestions that four commissioners were appointed because he could not agree on a single appointment with Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, replied that "Nothing could be further from the truth".

In Northern Ireland, as in any site of political conflict, truth is a slippery commodity. As Montaigne has it, "The truth of these days is not that which really is, but what every man persuades another to believe." Or persuades himself to believe, he might have added. The four main characters in David Park's novel are all subject to persuasion about the truth, by others or themselves.

Henry Stanfield, the Truth Commissioner, is a serial adulterer recently widowed and estranged from his daughter, who is living in Northern Ireland. Francis Gilroy, ex-IRA man and new Minister for Children and Culture, is trying to get to grips with the poetry of Philip Larkin and arrangements for the wedding of his pregnant daughter. Retired RUC detective James Fenton is in a childless marriage and makes regular van journeys to Romania to help its children, one of whom he befriends. The former IRA man Danny, whose real name is Michael Madden, is working in the US as an illegal immigrant and hopes to marry his pregnant Hispanic girlfriend.

The lives of these men are shadowed by an absence signalled by the disorientating tautology of the first sentence: "He's never been anywhere he's never been". He turns out to be Connor Walshe, a teenage petty criminal, one of the "disappeared" whose case the Commissioner finds himself obliged to investigate. The consequences of a past act come to haunt those who engineer the politics of the present. Reading The Truth Commissioner, wanting to know what happens next, we are inevitably drawn to what happened before. The novel is written entirely in the present tense, a device which can often seem contrived and melodramatic. Here it is perfectly appropriate: not so much a Historic Present as an Implicated or Inexorable Present, suggesting that truth itself is a narrative. Do we commission the truth, as we might a piece of writing? Do we commit the truth, as we might an act of violence?

Park offers no easy answers. The truths behind the people in his novel are, as in real life, provisional and circumstantial. Their present is habitual. Gilroy believes in "good habits": "in the old days it was bad habits that got you killed, and the worst habit of all was to be in the right place at the right time, leaving yourself freeze-framed, the perfect picture waiting to be shot". Fenton's life has been conditioned by "thirty years of sitting in offices and interrogation rooms, laced with the sweet stench of sweat and fear". Stanfield, brought up to write and speak "correct English", is appalled by the slangy delivery of his young staff. Danny, happy with his present life, looking forward to the birth of his child, still wakes up too early, wondering if it is because of "some programmed biological clock, whose hands cannot be stopped, which wakes him every morning at the same time. Some legacy of a different time and place, some throwback that cannot be thrown away."

Northern Ireland has been represented countless times in fiction, whether in novelistic or filmic form; and in Northern Ireland we are great sticklers for authenticity. We can spot a dodgy Belfast accent or location shot a mile off. David Park's account reads true. The real Victims Commissioners have their job cut out. They could do worse than to read The Truth Commissioner, though the reading might not be too comfortable.

Ciaran Carson's new translation of 'The Tain' is published by Penguin Classics

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform