Review: "Black Mountain and Other Stories" the Latest Book by Gerry Adams
Reviewed by Ciarán Quinn
It is always with some trepidation that I pick up a book written by someone I know. The first question that springs to mind is, “Is it any good”. Secondly, “Will it reveal something new about my friend that I didn’t know”, or maybe worse, “something that I didn’t want to know”.
Because of those two questions, ‘Black Mountain and Other Stories’ by Gerry Adams lay on my stack of books for six months.
I have known and worked with Gerry Adams for over 30 years. I count him as a friend, mentor, and at times tormentor. I wanted to read the book before telling him that I had bought it.
My thinking was that if it wasn’t to my taste I’d deal with it in the traditional way of the Irish male. We would never talk about it.
I am glad to report that the answer to my questions is that the book is very good and it does reveal something surprising about the author.
‘Black Mountain and Other Stories’ is a collection of 16 fictional tales. The Black Mountain of the title is part of the Belfast Hills that frame the city. The mountain is a witness to the lives of all who live there. It plays the same role in this book.
While the Mountain is a constant, the voices in the stories change. Sometimes it’s the voice of a narrator, a protagonist, or an observer. Sometimes the main character is an old nun, a young child, a prisoner, an IRA volunteer, a young man from the west of Ireland far removed from Belfast. The skill of the writer is obvious that despite these differences the characters are all fully rounded and relatable.
The writing style is easy and accessible. The pacing of the stories is implacable, There is an element of real surprise when a twist emerges in the tale.
Pain, anger, and humor are revealed in the telling of these stories. The author does not shy away from difficult questions of child abuse, suicide, the brutality of conflict as well as friendship and love. All issues are handled with compassion and insight.
The book starts and ends with two stories of friendship, ‘Black Mountain’ and the hilarious ‘Up for the Match’. The last story a quest for all-Ireland hurling tickets is a tale of the journey being just as important as the destination. Between these, the “Mountains of Mourne” and “The Wrong Foot”, are stories of friendships forged or tested in the conflict. Both leave a sense of potential relationships that were never fully realized. All are pure Belfast.
Four conflict-related stories are featured. Two on the experiences of prisoners. One on an older woman trying to reconcile her experience and republicanism with the catholic church. The last, “The Sniper’ tells the story of an IRA volunteer waiting to take a shot at an unsuspecting British Army patrol. This is a story of the brutal banality of conflict. The IRA volunteer has made this choice and is resigned to his role.
When a writer is a political activist, there is always a concern that the fiction will become polemical. For the most part, Gerry Adams avoids that by keeping the dialogue honest and leaving the unresolved issues unresolved.
The main bulk of the book and strongest writing is found in the stories relating to children and childhood. Some are traumatic tales of surviving abuse, witnessing domestic violence, bullying, abandonment, suicide, and loss.
This was the revelatory part of the book. Gerry Adams writes exceptionally well from the point of a confused child trying to make sense of a senseless and brutal world. He deals with these issues with compassion, honesty, and warmth.
Despite the subject matter, there is positivity to the stories. Finding humanity in suffering. These characters are damaged but will survive. They are stories of hope. Many are adults looking back at their own lives and telling their stories.
The short story format suits Gerry Adams. Fiction provides a space to deal with issues outside of politics. His writing style is very accessible. His characters are relatable and engaging. The stories are well thought out and at times cover painful issues without being difficult to read.
Gerry Adams in the introduction sets out his aim for the book.
“If you can make them laugh or cry? Make them believe? That’s special…. Give them hope, Get them to imagine. To remember.”
I believe he has achieved that aim. Reading the book at times I laughed out loud, other times I finished a story stunned, saddened but ultimately with a sense that it would be all be ok.
I am also relieved that I can tell him that I bought the book.
Reviewed by Ciarán Quinn and available from Black Mountain and other stories By Gerry Adams - Sinn Féin Bookshop (sinnfeinbookshop.com) and all good booksellers