de Darragh McKeon
Translated from English (Ireland) by Carine Chichereau
Belfond, 240 p., €22
A whispered question. Simon Hanlon hears it when his epileptic seizures occur. “What’s your name, son?” »Simon had such crises, briefly, during his adolescence in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, torn apart by the “Troubles” opposing Irish republicans and British forces. They return, violently, as he approaches fifty while this architect lives in New York. The relapse coincided with the meeting of a friend from her youth who revived a memory that had remained out of her consciousness for thirty years. Simon then seeks to reconnect the threads of his memory.
The first crises took place just after one of the IRA’s worst attacks, on November 8, 1987 in Enniskillen, the town near where Simon grew up. The terrorists had deliberately targeted the population loyal to British rule, gathered for the “Remembrance Sunday” parade. Eleven people were killed and 63 injured. With his father, a Catholic peasant, Simon was present out of loyalty to the memory of his mother, a Protestant nurse, who had died shortly before of cancer.
The previous summer, during a night of bivouac on an island in Lough Erne, Simon had seen illegal immigrants hiding – undoubtedly – weapons. He himself had been spotted by one of them who had whispered this question to him then ordered him to go back to bed and be quiet. Simon didn’t say anything. Since then, he has lived with, deep within himself, this nagging question: does he have any responsibility, through his silence, in the attack of November 8? Simon’s appeasement will come from an astonishing work, that of imagining the life and destiny of the man he meets on the island.
Darragh McKeon confirms with Remembrance Sunday a very remarkable talent for novelistic construction, already noted in Everything that is solid dissolves into air, his first book devoted to the tragedy of Chernobyl. His writing is clear, neither cold nor emphatic. We enter as if gently into universes far from us, that of epilepsy patients, that of this Northern Ireland where people are locked into murderous identities.
Simon Hanlon’s entire quest, regarding the man from Lough Erne, basically consists of delving into the double question raised by a quote from Brian Keenan (1): “What is there about him in me, what is there of me in him? »