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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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Conclusion 141


Conclusion There is more than one way to live in Northern Ireland and more than one story to be told. — Patterson 1994: 44 Patterson’s forthright review of Resurrection Man, from which the above quotation is drawn, is significantly placed in an edition of the magazine Fortnight beside a review of Maurice Leitch’s Gilchrist by Robert McLiam Wilson. Patterson and Wilson have a similar complaint, that the Northern Irish novel has been trapped in a suffocating paradigm which prioritises sectarianism and fetishises violence. Eoin McNamee and Ronan Bennett are singled out for rebuke, as well as the publishing industry which pro- motes monolithic representations of Northern Ireland. The placing of these articles together is almost a manifesto statement for the new generation of Northern Irish novelists, a fact that was well-documented by Eve Patten in 1995. While these reviews were very much of their time, and while both Northern Ireland and its novelists are now older and wiser, these authors began to emphasise the need for Northern Ireland’s pluralistic identity to be rendered in fiction. Patterson and Wilson’s subsequent work bore this agenda out, but McNamee’s work also followed his own ideological project, to expose the dark and murky corners of Northern Irish life. This fiction was published during a time when Northern Ireland and, by exten- sion, Northern Irish men, were subject to radical change. While these three authors have remained fairly constant in their ideological positions there have been changes in their subject matter in the light of personal...

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