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Under Goliath by Peter Carter
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Under Goliath

by Peter Carter

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One of the drawbacks of growing up feeling ambivalent about the whole educational process is a tendency to develop certain prejudices against the materials used to educate you. The books recommended to you in school or taught in class tend to become associated negatively with the idea of 'worthiness.' Which is to say, like medicine, these books are good for you. Which is daft. I genuinely loved a lot of the books I was taught in school - Huckleberry Finn and Wuthering Heights and Persuasion. That didn't stop me from regarding other books, not taught to me but on the curriculum, as 'worthy.' This included, but was not limited to, To Kill A Mockingbird, Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry, and Under Goliath. Peter Carter's novel was doubly handicapped because it was set in Belfast and was about the Troubles. Nothing could be worthier than a children's book about the Troubles, especially to an Irish child living in the South, for whom the North was a troubled id, sending nightmares and other disturbances to bother the consciousness via the six o'clock news and newspaper headlines.

But here I am. Alan is a Protestant, but a bit of an outsider for all that, his father being British. With no interest in hardline Protestantism, he nonetheless develops a desire to play the lambegh, the huge drum used by Orange marching bands. In the event, he joins a band, but ends up playing the fife. A chance, and chancy, encounter, brings him into contact with Fergus, a Catholic piper, and a hidden gun. They meet each week, their relationship uneasily distorted by the gun, and by the growing unease throughout the city and province, to the point where it seems impossible for them to be friends.

This is brilliantly, beautifully written, psychologically astute, vivid with the sights and sounds of seventies Belfast, awash with the social and religious pressures dividing the inhabitants. The final chapters brilliantly describe a terrifying riot in all its confusion and violence. The framing device has a shockingly brutal bitterness to it. The boys might survive their childhood experiences but the cumulative effect destroys their innocence and warps their lives.

The lesson here is, I suppose, that sometimes worthy books really are truly and genuinely worthy books. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
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