Patterson is a wry observer of society with a built-in bullshit detector, and in this survey of Northern Ireland three years on from the EU referendum vote, calls out hypocrisy on all sides. He prefers a show-and-not-tell approach, even while the reader is crying out for a sentence here and there that burns with righteous indignation. The voice behind this journey through “Backstop Land” is always humane and undogmatic. “I am trying to write this book in real time – or as real as these unreal and rumour-filled times get,” he asserts, and by doing so, references a possible problem at the heart of this book.
Patterson writes “in real time” during the summer of 2019, enacting the efforts of all of us to follow events as they hurtled toward an eventually postponed deadline. He incorporates the views of people he talks to alongside (and often in contrast with) the opinions of experts and commentators. His appearance as a character in his own text, affected by the material he is engaged in gathering, reflects its central motif: absurdity. The ‘backstop’ prepares the ground. Though denoting an assurance, this term was always close to farce. (Each chapter contains the word or the letters ‘up’.) Developments post-publication have only underlined that aspect. On October 21st, the backstop simultaneously disappeared and became an immediate prospect. All the while, Brexit itself remains phantasmal, since it has not so far happened.
Patterson, reliably even-handed, mocks the republican side just as effectively for their stupidities and rank hypocrisies... Patterson writes passionately of the inner darkness ... In vivid, biting passages, Patterson describes the paramilitary culture of punishing young people... Backstop Land has flaws: occasionally the writing is gnomic or self-indulgent, and sentences forget to stop. But this is brave stuff, because he’s scathing about bad men on both sides, and wise. Read it ... and you’ll understand who these people are. And why peace in Ireland matters.