Liam Bell’s first novel, So It Is, is set in a Belfast scarred by war. Its central character is a clever, damaged, young Catholic girl Aoife. Two parallel narratives run through ‘Book 1’: one, a third person account of a young girl, Aoife, whose growing is marred by family troubles and the dilemmas posed to her and to those she loves by the circumstances of life in Belfast in the 80s and 90s; the other, the first person internal voice of a hardened young woman, Cassie, who seeks out terrorists from the other community for a grisly revenge. As the story of Aoife progresses through her teenage years, we understand how Aoife has turned or been turned into Cassie. It is a sympathetic evocation of growing up in the midst of that strange civil war that was ‘The Troubles’.
Book 2 focuses on Cassie and her increasingly systematic approach to revenge, tutored and supported by her ex-provo psychopath lover, Baldy. Here the novel really takes off and develops a dark insight into deeper themes. The structure of Book 2, one chapter for each of the ten killlers on Baldy’s revenge ‘hit list’, racks up the tension – with each new story, another name is scored off the list. The conversations between the characters explore the moral challenges of peace and reconciliation for those scarred by nihilistic violence. Baldy and Cassie pursue their grim task against a backdrop of the Good Friday agreement and steps towards power-sharing. Ciáran, the young lad down the street whom Aoife might have fallen in love with and married in earlier more peaceful times, has learned to move into the new era and reaches out to Cassie, trying to revive Aoife, to bring her back. But it is Aaron, an ex-UDA man on Baldy’s list, who reaches deepest into Cassie to find Aoife again. In the novel’s surprising ending, peace and pain are reconciled – both hopeful and tragic.