Watching the Door: Cheating death in 1970s Belfast, By Kevin Myers

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Kevin Myers’ brilliant and appalling memoir of the Troubles shows a community thrashing about in a maelstrom of satanic stubbornness. Hired as a journalist for RTE, he went to Belfast and saw it all at first hand. By the time he left, 40 of those he had known were dead. He moves from pubs in the Shankill Road to those in the Falls, and chats amicably either with people who have just killed someone, or with people who are about to – frequently with phlegmatic expressions of regret. “Rab Brown”, a local UDA commander, gives vent to these admirable reflections: “I don’t judge a man by his religion. All that sectarian shite.” There is a gentle query concerning Myers’ views on sectarian assassinations, and then, at 2am in the urinals of a pub, Myers is informed by |a friend that he’s about to be murdered: |“I had been supping with a devil.”

Despite the horror, there are episodes of rich farce. Myers’ libido is not always his friend. On one occasion he has to nip out of a house when a weightlifting IRA husband makes an unexpected appearance; on another, he has to flee a Protestant rugby-playing one. “With such gallant cross-community endeavours as mine, peace was surely at hand.” All the characters are evoked persuasively, wittily and even – when they deserve it – warmly.

Everyone lies. Women, children and grandmothers collude in the slaughter. A man can be killed for taking too long to return a loan. Nobility and kindness of character are rewarded with an unmourned death. Night after night, Myers is visited by two “faithful friends”, Seamie and Jimmie, who kill him in his dreams.

If this was a war, it seems to have |been one orchestrated by the deluded, fought by the impressionable, and visited almost exclusively on the innocent. Myers’ book is a superbly written and timely jolt to our memory.

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