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Written in the raw, unsparing prose that marks McCabe's fiction, Carn is the timeless story of a small town struggling to break away from its bleak past, and the lives of two women aching to escape the forces that shaped them.
The town of Carn is somewhere up north, near the border where Ireland ends and North Ireland begins, and it's not much of a place. A small railway junction and cattle market, it was sleepy to start with and nearly nods off altogether when the trains stop running: "It got to the stage where no one expected anything good to happen ever again." Then a big-shot local opens a meatpacking factory that gets the place whirring. For the people of Carn—young girls like Sadie Rooney, old tarts like Josie Keenan, IRA toughs like Benny Dolan—the life of the town becomes a substitute for life itself; the insuperable boredom and frustration they suffer is subsumed in their daily rounds as they drift from work to pub to church and back. Like most good regional writers, McCabe assembles a portrait of the place from seemingly random, modest events. And by concentrating on the lives of the town's inhabitants (of every class and condition), he allows us to see how they are bound together by a dense, shared history of poverty and oppression and by the close similarity of their habits and fears. When the larger world begins to intrude itself through the violence and terrors of the modern Troubles spilling over from Northern Ireland, the town is unprepared. While some, like Benny Dolan, welcome the violence and conspiracy as an escape from boredom, most of the people are unable to make sense of the sudden upsurge of danger. The symbolic ending is obvious and heavy-handed—appropriately so.
Marvelously rendered and deeply felt: a story about the inescapable impact of Irish history on Irish life that's told with an immense, quiet power.