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Sons of Ulster

Masculinities in the Contemporary Northern Irish Novel


Caroline Magennis

Both masculinity and the Northern Irish conflict have been the subjects of a great deal of recent scholarship, yet there is a dearth of material on Northern Irish masculinity. Northern Ireland has a remarkable literary output relative to its population, but the focus of critical attention has been on poetry rather than the fine novels that have been written in and about Ulster. This book goes some way towards remedying the deficiency in critical attention to the Northern Irish novel and the lack of gendered approaches to Northern Irish literature and society.
Sons of Ulster explores the representation of masculinity within a number of Northern Irish novels written since the mid-1990s, focusing on works by Eoin McNamee, Glenn Patterson and Robert McLiam Wilson. One of the key aims of the book is to disrupt notions of a hegemonic Northern Irish masculinity based on violent conflict and hyper-masculine sectarian rhetoric. The author uses the three sections of the text to represent the three key facets of Northern Irish masculinity: bodies, performances and subjectivity bound up with violence.


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3. ‘The Unpleasantness’: Homophobia and the Homoerotic in Northern Irish Fiction 79


Performances 79 She lies awake afterwards, wondering if there was a parallel universe in which he is her husband and they have had perfunctory sex and he has just rolled off her body. They play out an exaggerated form of male/female relations, like the pneumatic blondes and burly men of pornography. It is more like an impression of sex, a grotesque parody, rather than any attempt at verisimilitude, like Glenn Patterson’s ‘fumbly sex’. Even his words to her appear contrived, him offering acceptance of her post-intimacy existential angst: ‘You’re in a post-coital situation, you’re allowed sadness’ (12:23: 77). This section considered how the protagonists of these novels create their identities. This is, of course, complicated by the novel as itself an act of creation. This can serve to further emphasise the awareness of mascu- line performance in the Northern Irish context. McNamee represents, in Victor Kelly, the paramilitary swagger seen in news footage. Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries, with their unspoken codes of appearance and behaviour, further emphasise this point. Violence will be further explored in Chapter Three. 3. ‘The Unpleasantness’: Homophobia and the Homoerotic in Northern Irish Fiction The ways by which Northern Irish society preserves its boundaries and cohesion in the maintenance of certain forms of sectarian identity can be corresponded to the ways in which it has repressed homosexuality through law, protests and intimidation. The sociologist Rob Kitchin, in his essay ‘Sexing the City’ (2002) has described Belfast as having a ‘homophobic hyper-hetero masculinity’ (215). One of...

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