Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Books: "Country" By Michael Hughes

Country: A Novel
By Michael Hughes
Custom House; hardcover, $26.99

Michael Hughes grew up in a small town in Northern Ireland, graduated from Oxford, and trained in theatre at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. He has worked for many years as an actor under the professional name Michael Colgan, and he also teaches creative writing.

Hughes' stunning novel, Country, a fierce and suspenseful reimagining of Homer's Iliad set in mid-1990s Northern Ireland, was first published in the United Kingdom last year. It was names a best book of 2018 by The Guardian, was shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Literature and won the London Hellenic Prize.

It is a heart-stopping tale of honor and revenge that takes us to Northern Ireland in 1996. After twenty-five years of vicious conflict, the IRA and the British have agreed to an uneasy ceasefire as a first step towards lasting peace. Faced with the prospect that decades of savage violence and loss  have led only to smiles and handshakes, those on the ground in the border country question whether it really is time to pull back, or whether it's quite the opposite.

When an IRA man's wife turns into an informer, he and his brother gather their comrades together for an assault on the local army base. Old grudges boil over, and the squad's feared sniper, Achill, refused to risk his life to defend another man's pride.

As the gang plots without him, the British SAS are sent to crush the rogue terror cell before it can damage the fragile truce and drag the region back to the darkest days of the Troubles. Meanwhile, Achill's young protege grabs his chance to join the fray in his place.

Hughes, inspired by the oldest war story of them all, explores the brutal glory of armed conflict, the cost of Ireland's most uncivil war, and the bitter tragedy of those on both sides who offer their lives to defend the dream of country.

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