Terrible Beauty

Peter King, Author Roberts Rinehart Publishers $22.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-57098-262-0
The title of this propaganda-heavy first novel by New York Congressman King is from the Yeats poem ""Easter 1916"": ""Wherever green is worn,/All changed, changed utterly:/A terrible beauty is born."" While he proves himself a capable craftsman, King is clearly pursuing a political agenda. Bernadette Hanlon's involvement with the IRA is traced, from funeral to funeral, during the course of a fateful year. Bernadette's difficulties multiply shortly after a member of her husband's IRA unit is killed, she suffers a miscarriage and her activist husband, Dermot, is framed by the authorities for the murder of a British soldier and sent to Castlereagh Gaol. At home with her three children, Bernadette struggles with her life dramatically poised between domesticity and terrorism. When a young Catholic girl is killed by a British plastic bullet, Bernadette realizes that ""the Brits were trying to destroy the very soul of her people."" She feels strangely at peace after she decides to become actively involved in the IRA. Coolly, she murders a prominent politician who has become a British informer, making a clean getaway. Recognizing that her beauty and intelligence make her a perfect spokeswoman, the IRA arranges an American speaking tour for Bernadette, during which she is to spread the word about British injustice and the ""supergrasses"" (informers). She faces a cordial reception but also hard questions because if she's a ""patriot"" to some, she's ""terrorist"" to others. Returning to Belfast, Bernadette follows her husband's trial and takes comfort in the company of Father Slattery, who provides a fiery defense of the IRA. His virtual monologue conveniently draws the parallel themes of revolution and faith together, sanctimoniously justifying self-righteous violence. King pushes his agenda to the detriment of characterizations; there's not a single complex British character to counteract the anti-British tirades. Because Bernadette's story is not sufficiently grounded in the details of her tormented world, her tragic tale founders in melodramatic limbo between political diatribe and political art. (May) FYI: Congressman King (R., N.Y.) is co-chairman of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs.
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-1-56833-217-8
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