Book Review: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

I cannot remember where I first saw this book but I’ve had it on my book wish list ever since it came out in 2019. I read all 412 pages in less than two days but I also had time to spare and work to procrastinate on. I was fascinated by the premise of the book that followed the murder of a young single mother during the Troubles, but this book ended up being so much more than that. The book not only follows the aftermath of the disappearance of Jean McConville, but also paints a rich history of the birth of the Provisional IRA and their role in the most violent years of the Troubles. I was aware of the Troubles as a problematic period in the history of the UK Commonwealth and Ireland but really didn’t understand the depth of the issues that were fought over and how high or low intensity that conflict was. Before reading this book, my only experience with the Troubles was from watching Derry Girls, a Netflix comedy about teenagers coming of age as a peace plan is finally agreed upon. Coming from a place where I knew next to nothing about the Troubles, this book was an excellent primer into this tumultuous period in Irish history.

The book centers on the disappearance of Jean McConville but also intertwines the stories of most of the important figures in the Provisional IRA or the Provos. At first I was mildly confused about why Keefe was sharing the history and stories of the Provo leadership and main actors in this book, but it all made sense once Keefe got into the meat of Jean McConville’s disappearance. I really enjoyed reading this book, even though the period of history that it discusses is dark and still a recent wound for many living in Northern Ireland. Most of Keefe’s work draws upon a prodigious and mismanaged project from Boston College to create an oral history of the IRA and the Troubles. This history was not meant to have been accessed until all the participants had died, but it became a centerpiece in the legal battle to bring Jean McConville’s murderers to justice and thus became an integral part of the story. I would absolutely recommend this book to almost anyone. It may be a bit dark for some readers, but I think that just has to do with the facts of what happened in Northern Ireland during this period. I hope you get the chance to read this book and enjoy it just as much as I did! Happy reading!

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