Silence and Memory: The changing contexts of the northern reticence in Troubles literature
This thesis examines literature’s potential to represent silence and memory in depictions of the 1968 to 1998 Troubles in Northern Ireland and the surrounding periods of unrest. Silence pervades the identity and memory of Northern Ireland throughout the country’s changing contexts. The limitations of fact and historical record hinder certainty in the present and the envisioning of a future when Northern Ireland is viewed through this lens. Literature has the potential to speak the unspeakable, elucidating the causes and consequences of silence, while considering the presence of what it is that makes these things unspeakable. This thesis explores four novels which illustrate literature’s potential to reconsider, renegotiate, and reimagine the silence of the Troubles: Troubles (1970) by J.G. Farrell, Reading in the Dark (1996) by Seamus Deane, No Bones (2001) by Anna Burns, and The Fire Starters (2019) by Jan Carson. Each of these novels represents silence as a palimpsestuous space which establishes an interrelationship of past, present, and future silences. In this way, these works value that which is forgotten and/or unspeakable. Applying postcolonial and trauma theory to my analysis of these novels, I aim to make a case for Northern Ireland’s inclusion within the critical conversations surrounding these academic contexts. Despite this thesis’ construction as an analysis of a linear progression, it aims to avoid suggesting a trajectory of silence, but instead, to reinforce literature’s potential to question this silence and, therefore, to garner a better relationship with the ambiguity of the northern reticence. Through exploring these texts, I seek to consider both the significance of silence in Northern Ireland, as well as literature’s ability to value what is left behind in these absences.