McNamee, Eoin 1961–
McNamee, Eoin 1961–
First name is pronounced "Owen"; born 1961, in Kilkeel, Ireland; son of a Catholic solicitor; married Marie Caulfield (a painter); children: two daughters. Education: Attended Trinity College.
Finalist, Irish Times/Aer Lingus Award, 1989; winner, Macauley fellowship for Irish literature, 1990.
The Last of Deeds (contains The Lion Alone and Love in History), Raven Arts Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1989, Picador USA (New York, NY), 1996.
Resurrection Man, Picador (London, England), 1994, Picador USA (New York, NY), 1995.
The Language of Birds, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1995.
Resurrection Man (screenplay; based on his novel), PolyGram Films International, 1998.
The Blue Tango, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2001.
The Navigator: Chosen to Save the World (young adult novel), Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2006.
12.23: Paris, 31st August 1997, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2007.
City of Time (young adult novel), Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2008.
Eoin McNamee is the author of adult noir works of fact-based fiction, including Resurrection Man, The Blue Tango, and 12.23: Paris, 31st August 1997, which examine the murky criminal patches of Northern Ireland as well as the corridors of power, as in the last-named novel about the death of England's Princess Diana. He is also well known for his juvenile works of fiction, including The Navigator: Chosen to Save the World and City of Time, books that challenge young readers with both theme and language.
McNamee's 1994 novel, Resurrection Man, impressed critics with its gritty, unsentimental depiction of a Protestant loyalist terrorist who roams the night streets of Belfast committing ever more grisly murders in the hopes of being the lead story on the nightly news. An award-winning writer, McNamee garnered praise for the stark poetry of his narrative. The story entwines the perspective of Victor Kelly, the Protestant murderer burdened with a Catholic-sounding name, Heather, his lover, and Ryan, a journalist, and is set against a backdrop of the city that critics maintained was so vivid as to constitute another character. Chris Patsilelis, a Washington Post contributor, wrote: "McNamee describes Belfast as not only eerie, dark and abandoned but even, at times, as an insidious, conscious presence." While some critics faulted the author for at times appearing enamored of his own prose-making, Resurrection Man was widely regarded as an effective psychological thriller written with skill and confidence.
Resurrection Man follows the exploits of a gang of four Protestant thugs known as the Shankill Butchers, led by Victor Kelly, who cruise the Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast at night in search of victims. Kelly is described as a proud serial killer, rather than a devoted believer in the loyalist cause; a man most affected by his love for American western movies and the reverence he feels for his mother. Ryan, a naive reporter attempting to uncover information related to the series of knife-killings, and Heather, the lover he shares with Kelly, are inexorably drawn into Kelly's corrosive web. "Despite all the bloodshed in his novel," critic Patsilelis observed, "McNamee … has created a thoughtful, powerfully realized and imaginative work that goes far beyond the thriller genre." Other critics also noted that the power of the novel lies in its psychological observation, often laid down in lyrical language: Resurrection Man is "a beautiful work about ugliness," in the words of Matthew Humphrey of the San Francisco Review of Books.
Jonathan Coe of the London Review of Books, among others, faulted McNamee for an occasional unevenness in his narrative; "McNamee's slightly mannered prose … can never quite decide whether to settle for austerity or to gesture mysteriously toward large areas of shadowy meaning," Coe wrote. However, Coe, like others, expressed admiration for what the author attempts in his novel, concluding: "Resurrection Man plunges without fear or compromise through very dangerous territory; it is an impressively confident book." Similarly, British novelist Pinckney Benedict, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, remarked: "In Resurrection Man, [McNamee] has brought his considerable talent to bear on an unyielding subject, and his efforts have borne wild, bloody and thoroughly wonderful fruit." "This book is a chilling masterpiece and a brilliant debut," summed up a Publishers Weekly critic.
After a number of movie producers approached him about film rights, McNamee wrote a screen adaptation of Resurrection Man. When the film was finally finished and released, it was 1998, a time of increased sectarian violence in Ireland, so the film aroused controversy. Several British critics commented that the film implicates the entire Protestant community in the sadistic killings, yet McNamee disagreed with their assessment, telling Lara Bradley of News Letter: "There was a lot of irresponsible journalism about and people were jumping on bandwagons and missing the point. Some said it was republican propaganda and others said it was a slur on unionism. To make the leap between the Shankill Butchers and ordinary, decent unionists seemed to me to be the most offensive thing." McNamee also defended the film and its opening in such a politically charged atmosphere. "Anything that serves to throw light on what happened here and what is going on here makes it more difficult for people to retreat into the positions of the past," he told Trevor Johnston of the Scotsman. "Film-making about the North has tended to be in the realm of the moral fable," he added. "We tried to universalise the thing by pulling back and looking at the city as a kind of myth. Hopefully, if people can see themselves from the outside, an element of self-consciousness creeps in and makes it harder for them to stick back into their traditional trenches."
After the success and controversy of Resurrection Man, film and book, McNamee needed to recharge the well of his creativity. "I wrote myself out," he told Mick Heaney in the Sunday Times. "There was almost a burnout. With Resurrection Man I used everything I had, so now I had to create a new vocabulary. It sounds self-indulgent, but it was just the way it happened. I had to start over again and relearn the trade." What rekindled his interest in novel writing was a photograph of Patricia Curran, the daughter of Judge Lance Curran, a one-time Northern Ireland attorney general, who was stabbed to death at age nineteen in Whiteabbey in 1952.
This was a tale that McNamee had heard as a child from his father, a solicitor, and to the Irish people it had developed to mythic proportions. Patricia Curran, part of a prominent yet highly dysfunctional family, had been stabbed thirty-seven times, was found dead in the family's side yard, and appeared to have been moved from another location; yet investigators overlooked many details in their haste, and some suggest purposeful intention to cover up family involvement in the murders. So while Iain Hay Gordon, a young man serving at a Royal Air Force base, was convicted of the murder, he was sentenced to a mental institution for seven years, released into the care of his family, and exonerated almost fifty years later.
The factual account, symbolized by a mysterious photograph of Curran that adorns the book's cover, offered McNamee a springboard. So did the song "Blue Tango," which Gordon whistled to cheer himself and which McNamee titled his novel. "Once I got the title I got the whole noir feel of the thing," McNamee told Heaney. "A lot of the book is concerned with memory, and how this has come to us down the years distorted. Photographs have an affinity with memory—it starts out as a moment being snapped, but as the years go by it starts to acquire a history, a density and a background that nobody realised was there." McNamee poured over reports, trial transcripts, and other sources before retelling the story of Curran's murder and the investigation that followed. Although he had intended to fictionalize the place names and characters, he changed his mind at last moment. "Then I thought that there's almost something dishonest about that, almost coy," he recalled to Teddy Jamieson in a Glasgow Herald interview. "The case is readily identifiable and the book stands up or it doesn't." And unlike a traditional detective novel, McNamee does not "solve the case," does not even present his theory of who the killer was. Instead, in The Blue Tango he focused on the characters involved in the story. "There has been a lot of spin and misinformation about this case, so much that it becomes hard to determine the actual truth," he told Bradley. "I wasn't that interested in who killed Patricia, but in who she was."
Discussion of the work varied widely and centered on several aspects: its propriety, characterizations, and prose style. When the film version of Resurrection Man was released, some critics had expressed concern over portraying events that could affect the real families involved. Others voiced the same concern when The Blue Tango appeared, shortly after Gordon was exonerated of Curran's murder. McNamee countered, however, that the story has been in the public domain for fifty years and thus he was not obligated to seek the opinions of the real personages involved. He told Bradley, "I had a moral obligation to be fair and careful and I have done that. I kept to the procedural aspect of what actually happened, but created peripheral characters as vehicles to pass on views and feelings."
The Blue Tango earned critical acclaim. "By putting actual people and events into a narrative mixture of fact, conjecture and invention, he produces a story as compelling as it is convincing," praised New Statesman reviewer Martyn Bedford, who added, "The plot may have been served up on a plate for McNamee, but the way he refashions it—altering the chronology, teasing out vital details—transforms a fascinating historical episode into a gripping drama." Writing in the London Observer, Sean O'Hagan remarked, "McNamee's grasp of the conventions of the traditional noir mystery allows him to parody and subvert the genre, while simultaneously teasing out new possibilities from the form." Yet the work was not immune to criticism, particularly for its prose. London Guardian critic Alex Clark chided: "McNamee is guilty of an extraordinary tendency to over-egg the pudding, loading the novel with signs, symbols and a seemingly irresistible portentousness," and O'Hagan Wrote: "From time to time … his insistence on imbuing characters, places and events with a portentous aura almost overloads the atmosphere." London Sunday Times reviewer Penny Perrick thought differently. Calling McNamee's style "meticulous and precise," she added: "Such verbal polish adds to the thrill of the crime story, giving it the black and wicked glitter of jet."
In both The Blue Tango and Resurrection Man McNamee focuses on the atmosphere that surrounds the events, intertwining fact and fiction. To quote O'Hagan: "In the uneasy space between the two [fact and fiction], Eoin McNamee has staked a place for himself and his strangely compelling, willfully ambiguous, almost-true stories."
After a five-year hiatus in published works, McNamee turned to juvenile fiction with his 2006 time-travel fantasy The Navigator. Owen is the protagonist of this "spirited, swift-moving fantasy-adventure," as a Publishers Weekly critic described the novel. His father has mysteriously died—there are rumors of suicide—and the death has thrown his mother into a depression and cast Owen adrift. The little solace he finds is in the country near his village. But visiting his secret spot one day, he meets a very small man who prophesies Owen's part to play in a dangerous adventure. This meeting soon propels Owen into a portal in time where he becomes enmeshed in a life-and-death struggle between the Resisters and the Harsh. Recruited by the Resisters, Owen and his compatriots, including the energetic Caiti, must battle the villainous Harsh, who want to turn the clock back on humanity and thereby eradicate it. Owen's task is to find the Navigator, a mythical figure who it is said can defeat the Harsh and set time right again. Though Booklist writer Lynn Rutan felt the plot "concept is somewhat sketchy," she went on to note that McNamee "keeps the action vivid and exciting, giving readers little time to worry about details." Similarly, Caitlin Augusta, writing in School Library Journal, also thought the idea that time moving backward would somehow destroy humanity "is hard to accept." Other reviewers, however, had higher praise for The Navigator. KidsRead.com Web site contributor Donna Volkenannt called it "a thrilling adventure traveling through time" and further observed: "The plot twists and turns are exciting, and characters throughout the book are believable and engaging. Even the villains are humorous and surprising." A Kirkus Reviews critic also commended the work: "Excellent world-building, a thrilling and propulsive plot, internal consistency and a multitude of child heroes guarantee a following for this exciting fantasy." The adventure is carried forward in the 2008 sequel, City of Time.
McNamee returned to adult fiction with his 2007 book 12.23, in which he uses both fact and fiction to weave a tale about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The title is taken from the time that the Princess's car crashed in Paris's Pont de l'Alma tunnel, killing both her and her companion, Dodi Fayed. McNamee posits that this accident was really a killing and that a strobe light was used to blind the driver of the car, causing the crash. The novel is filled with shadowy specters from various secret services, including Britain's Special Branch. In the end, McNamee leaves the conspiracy theory unresolved, though it leads in many directions, including to a former scandal in a boy's home in Northern Ireland. Reviewing the book in the London Guardian, Chris Petit observed: "In keeping with McNamee's previous explorations of the unaccountable worlds of secret intelligence, it offers a serious meditation on the nature of conspiracy." Louis Wise, writing in the New Statesman, also felt that 12.23 is "both a thoughtful thriller, and an interesting appendix to the events of August 1997."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of The Last of Deeds, p. 572; December 1, 2006, Lynn Rutan, review of The Navigator: Chosen to Save the World, p. 47.
Bookseller, February 2, 2007, "McNamee and Brown on Diana," p. 11.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 2007, April Spisak, review of The Navigator, p. 339.
Guardian (London, England), July 28, 2001, Alex Clark, review of The Blue Tango, p. 10; July 14, 2007, Chris Petit, review of 12.23: Paris, 31st August 1997.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), July 21, 2001, Teddy Jamieson, "Did Murder Veil Family Secrets?" p. 14.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1996, review of Resurrection Man; December 15, 2006, review of The Navigator, p. 1270.
London Review of Books, March 24, 1994, Jonathan Coe, review of Resurrection Man, pp. 23-24.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 15, 1995, Pinckney Benedict, review of Resurrection Man, pp. 3, 12.
News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), June 25, 2001, "Monday Books: Belfast Killing Is Basis for Book Blending Fact and Fiction," p. 23; July 23, 2001, Lara Bradley, "Account of Curran Murder Blends Fact and Fiction," p. 12.
New Statesman, July 9, 2001, Martyn Bedford, review of The Blue Tango, p. 55; September 3, 2007, Louis Wise, review of 12.23, p. 51.
New York Times Book Review, December 14, 1997, review of The Last of Deeds and Love in History, p. 36.
Observer (London, England), July 8, 2001, Sean O'Hagan, "Dreaming Blue Murder," p. 6.
Publishers Weekly, July 17, 1995, review of The Last of Deeds; September 30, 1996, review of The Last of Deeds and Love in History, p. 61; November 13, 2006, review of The Navigator, p. 57.
San Francisco Review of Books, November-December, 1995, Matthew Humphrey, review of Resurrection Man, p. 12.
School Librarian, spring, 2006, Ann G. Hay, review of The Navigator; winter, 2006, review of The Navigator.
School Library Journal, March, 2007, Caitlin Augusta, review of The Navigator, p. 214.
Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), July 22, 2001, review of The Blue Tango, p. 15.
Scotsman, January 22, 1998, Trevor Johnston, "On the Trail of Belfast's Sectarian Psychos," p. 15; July 14, 2001, "Review: Last Tango in Ulster," p. 18.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), July 15, 2001, Katie Owen, "Murder Turns into Myth."
Sunday Times (London, England), July 8, 2001, Mick Heaney, "Putting the Noir into a Dark Story," p. 10; July 29, 2001, Penny Perrick, "Murder Brought to Vivid Life; Fiction," p. 45.
Times Educational Supplement, January 27, 2006, David Buckley, "In Worlds of Their Own," p. 19.
Times Literary Supplement, May 27, 1994, review of Resurrection Man, p. 22; August 24, 2007, Nicholas Cullen, review of 12.23, p. 25.
Variety, December 8, 1997, Derek Elley, review of movie Resurrection Man, p. 113.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2007, David Goodale, review of The Navigator, p. 543.
Washington Post, September 4, 1995, Chris Patsilelis, review of Resurrection Man, p. C2.
KidsReads.com,http://www.kidsreads.com/ (January 3, 2008), Donna Volkenannt, review of The Navigator.