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Longlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award 2013
Spanning the decades that saw Northern Ireland move from brutal conflict to uncertain peace in the 1990s, this powerful new take on the literature of the Troubles is both a political coming-of-age novel and a fast-paced literary thriller.
Aoife, a young girl growing up in 1980s Belfast, finds herself the last line of defence between the violence and her family. While her mother sinks deeper into a medicated stupor, and her father leaves the family for the comforts of the local bars, Aoife cares for her brother Damien, trying to keep him out of harm’s way, while all around her friends and neighbours are swept up in the conflict.
Meanwhile Cassie, a Republican paramilitary and honeytrap, lures and seduces her victims, inflicting lasting damage. But her infamous tactics have their repercussions, and before long her past catches up with her.
So It Is is an unflinching and suspenseful debut that reflects the factions and fractures of the Troubles from a new perspective, culminating in a breathless sequence in which the choice between violence and personal morality becomes shockingly acute.
Shades of Brian Moore's Lies of Silence abound in this no-holds-barred debut about an Irish republican paramilitary who becomes first hunter, then hunted...Bell resists clichés and stretches the tension out to a bitterly abrupt end in which there are no winners.
This confident debut novel alternates between the two characters and invites us to speculate on the connection between them (the truth of which is tantalisingly deferred). The scenes dealing with young Aoife are beautifully handled. Though her story is harrowing, there are moments of humour and warmth that would seem to confirm her plaintive dictum: “It’s not always cruelty that shows through.”
No word is wasted, no imagery subdued in this powerful book which shows the reader what hard times are all about. An emotional rollercoaster with a very thought-provoking ending where the true value of life is considered.
This is a beautifully written debut novel which races us through, at a sometimes brutal pace, the history of the Troubles in the 1980s from the perspective of a young girl. The narrative deals with some difficult and painful issues , while the unusual voice of the narrator draws the reader in. A deftly written, confident debut.
By turns lyrical and brutal, Liam Murray Bell’s novel is a gripping and unforgettable literary debut. Interweaving an acutely-observed coming-of-age story with a chilling account of one woman’s involvement in Republican paramilitary activity, So It Is unflinchingly examines the devastating impact of violence on individual lives. This is a first novel of astonishing maturity from a talent to watch.
So It Is explores the physical and psychological devastation of the Northern Irish conflict on many levels with sensitivity and compassion. This is an intelligent, carefully constructed novel that includes real events from the Troubles to reinforce its emotional power.
There are real glimpses of a unique literary voice emerging in the first part of the book. Aoife's story is constructed in a genuinely engaging fashion, and Bell uses our present peace time context to examine the impact of all that has gone before. The interwoven narrative of a contemporary character who seeks to bring some retribution to bear upon those figures that live amongst us still in Northern Ireland – those with plenty of secrets and lies in their closets – interestingly seems to offer some catharsis to our villains in their attempts to deal with their own past.
In recent years Northern Irish writers have tended to avoid subjects close to home...Liam Murray Bell, a Scotsman by birth but who was at university in Belfast, has no such reservations...He knows the place and its people well and he has a good ear for the particularities of Ulster speech....As events unfold, Bell never lets us forget where we are in this city of invisible boundaries where it is dangerous, sometimes fatal, to stray far from one’s own....He knows how to tell a tale..[and] has written a challenging political thriller cum coming-of-age story.
So It Is represents a mature exploration of a controversial and difficult subject, and Bell has handled it intelligently, never compromising or sanitising, and wisely choosing to place the human – not the political or paramilitary – story at the centre of the novel.
Had me close to tears...If you like your books gritty with more than a hint of truth...then you will enjoy this one.
Gritty but realistic to the time, So It Is is an interesting, at times upsetting read. We hope to see more of this author soon.
Vividly and sympathetically written. Read full review
Exploring the impact of the Northern Irish Troubles on the lives of young women, [So It Is] combines a gripping narrative drive with a deep sensitivity to the language, thoughts and emotions of its characters.
'What was really interesting to me, and the driving force behind the book, was Cassie's narrative, this idea of women becoming actively involved in the violence.'
Read the Observer interview with Liam Murray Bell here.
Listen here to Liam's brilliant interview on The Book Cafe programme on BBC Radio Scotland.