Keefe’s narrative is an architectural feat, expertly constructed out of complex and contentious material, arranged and balanced just so. He knows better than to hazard an interloper’s interpretation of where an “ancient quarrel” began. Whether you go back to the Protestant settlers of the 17th century or the Tudors of the 16th or the Norman raiders of the 12th, you’re already mired in an endless volley of recriminations and reprisals. “It almost didn’t matter where you started the story,” Keefe writes. “It was always there.”
The author concludes with some reflections on Brexit, which he rightly says has apparently destabilized an Irish political dispensation that had settled down in a comfortable partitionist consensus. Keefe rejects the idea that, even if we are moving towards a United Ireland, we can in any way justify the armed campaign which ended decades ago.
Only an outsider could have written a book this good. Irish or British writers are tainted by provenance... He handles the minefield scrupulously, dodges loaded vocabulary and allows people to condemn themselves by their actions. Some of Radden Keefe’s most powerful writing describes how the IRA’s young guns saw their cause become mired in deceit, betrayal and political sell-out... Humanity shines through in the small anecdotes... I can’t praise this book enough: it’s erudite, accessible, compelling, enlightening. I thought I was bored by Northern Ireland’s past until I read it.
What happened to McConville and the quest to find out who was responsible makes Patrick Radden Keefe’s remarkable book a gripping piece of non-fiction. This is an achievement in itself, but Say Nothing — breathtaking in its scope and ambition — is much more than that. A staff writer for The New Yorker, Radden Keefe has produced a searing examination of the nature of truth in war and the toll taken by violence and deceit. The result is a lyrically written work that will take its place alongside the best of the books about the Troubles...