This Human Season
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This Human Season

by Louise Dean

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"With clear-eyed compassion, and with all the resources of the novelist's art, Louise Dean leads us through those terrible days when for a while Belfast was the vortex for the worst of the world's cruelty and pain."--J M Coetzee
"Breathtaking . . . [This Human Season] is a novel that


"With clear-eyed compassion, and with all the resources of the novelist's art, Louise Dean leads us through those terrible days when for a while Belfast was the vortex for the worst of the world's cruelty and pain."--J M Coetzee
"Breathtaking . . . [This Human Season] is a novel that confirms the arrival of a significant voice in British fiction."--The Observer
"It’s hard to believe that this poignant examination of long marriage is Dean’s first novel, so subtly does she develop the relationships among her characters and so skillfully does she balance delight and despair . . . Dean has produced an ideal novel, right out of the box."—Atlantic Monthly

"Dean crafts a gut-wrenching tale of marital recklessness and guilt that is reminiscent of John Updike at his most masterful . . . Her sheer talent takes one's breath away in its rigorous comple xity and lyrical dazzle . . . Becoming Strangers is poignant, authentic, funny and extraordinary." --San Francisco Chronicle

Editorial Reviews

Paul Gray
Louise Dean’s pitch-perfect second novel, This Human Season, recreates the time of the Troubles. But she doesn’t simply work factual details into a gripping story; given such powerful raw material, many competent novelists could do that. Instead, Dean dexterously highlights the telling advantage that fiction has over journalism and history, portraying the inner realm of thoughts and feelings. With remarkable even-handedness, she evokes the day-to-day struggles of English and Irish, Protestant and Roman Catholic, as they try to get on with their lives while the world around them goes insane.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Set in Belfast during the Troubles, Dean's accomplished second novel (after Becoming Strangers) is an affecting and well-researched depiction of the political and social strife of Northern Ireland in the winter of 1979. John Dunne, a 20-year veteran of the British army, takes a job as a prison guard at Belfast's Maze prison and is assigned to work in the squalid high-security block where the most hardened IRA inmates are engaged in a protest they call the Blanket (the inmates refuse to wear clothes and smear their feces on the cell walls one enterprising pair "paints" a fireplace). A newly arrived inmate, Sean Moran, imprisoned for his part in the bombing death of a policeman, becomes pivotal in the plan to take the protest to the next level. On the outside, Sean's mother, Kathleen, struggles to raise her remaining children while British soldiers routinely search her house for weapons, and John grows close with his adult illegitimate son. The possibility of violence is ever-present, especially for John, whose job makes him a target on and off the clock. Dean writes strong characters and provides a sympathetic rendering of both sides of the conflict, making for a powerful and memorable novel. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Christmas is coming in bleak and lawless 1979 Belfast, but there is little cheer for the families of IRA political prisoners or for their prison guards. Alternating chapters follow the stories of Sean Moran, a young man in prison for his part in a car bombing gone awry, and John Dunn, a former British soldier and recent guard recruit. Brutality and mistrust characterize both sides of this increasingly volatile conflict. Finally, with the assistance of outside agitators, the inmates conspire to begin a hunger strike in support of their demands for more humane conditions. As inside conditions go from squalid to hellish, more human dramas take place outside Maze Prison, as Dunn finds a college-age son he never knew he had and Moran's mother comes to terms with her unhappy marriage. Drawing on actual events, Dean uses crystalline prose to paint both sides of the conflict with an equally tender and sympathetic brush. Not for the squeamish but highly recommended.-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Troubles of Northern Ireland haunt the weeks around Christmas 1979 for a prison guard and the mother of a prisoner. Dean, whose Becoming Strangers (Jan. 2006) was on various prize lists, short and long, gives us John Dunn, an Englishman starting a new job in the Northern Ireland prisons after 20 years in the British Army, and Kathleen Moran, mother of four, one of whom is in Dunn's prison. The two live on opposite sides of a city that was, it must be remembered, as viciously torn as Beirut not that long ago. Dunn is a loner, a near-orphan who took the army as his family and his path as well as his livelihood, serving in various hot spots during his career. His time in Northern Ireland in the early days of the Troubles taught him to love the place, and his attachment to Angela, the woman with whom he now lives, brought him back to stay. Kathleen Moran has never been off the island. Married young to a windy braggart who is now, predictably, a drunk working in the local pub, Kathleen smokes through her chaotic days, frantic with fear for her oldest child, Sean, an IRA prisoner, and edgy with lust for Brendan Coogan, the handsome spokesman for the Republican cause. Sean Moran and his fellow prisoners have for three years protested their criminal status by eschewing prison uniforms. Naked in their freezing cells, they defecate on the floor and write their politics on the walls using bits of their mattresses as paintbrushes. And as they wait for the Brits to recognize their political status, they order the murder of their guards. This grim story is told with sharp wit and sharper love. Readers who manage to leave Dean's worlds of East and West Belfast without a bitter sympathy for bothsides of the grinding Ulster conflict are in dire need of heart transplants. Not a wasted moment in this terrifying and terribly funny book.
People Magazine
"Dean's great achievement is showing us how ordinary people can go on with their lives in the midst of extraordinary brutality and how a few are able to do so with compassion and hope."
From the Publisher

"With clear-eyed compassion, and with all the resources of the novelist’s art, Louise Dean leads us through those terrible days when for a while Belfast was the vortex for the worst of the world’s cruelty and pain."—J. M. Coetzee

"Audacious . . . remarkable. That an English woman born after the Troubles began should take one of its most grisly episodes—the 'dirty protests' in the Maze prison—as the focus of a compelling family drama is ambitious to say the least. That she should pull it off with such compassion and perceptive detail is nothing short of astonishing."—The Telegraph

"Dean's great achievement is showing us how ordinary people can go on with their lives in the midst of extraordinary brutality and how a few are able to do so with compassion and hope."
Entertainment Weekly
"How everyday people become mortal enemies is both the central mystery and tragedy of this intelligent book."
New York Times
"Louise Dean's pitch-perfect second novel, 'This Human Season,' recreates the time of the troubles ... With remarkable evenhandedness, she evokes the day-to-day struggles of English and Irish, Protestant and Roman Catholic, as they try to get on with their lives while the world around them goes insane ... Those too young to remember will learn much from her narrative, not only about those days but about what Yeats called 'the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.' So will those who think they remember all too well."
The Boston Globe
“Dean mercilessly heightens the suspense while managing at the same time to confer complexity and even grace on her characters and on their forbidding city.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune
"No ... summary can evoke the sense of being inside the lives of the characters Dean generates in her new novel. Ordinary people fighting through extraordinary difficulties one day at a time: Done poorly, it can be tedious, or worse; done this well, it is memorable, luminous and life-giving in the way only the best realistic fiction can be."

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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This Human Season

By Dean, Louise


Copyright © 2007 Dean, Louise
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0151012539

When the soldiers came the time before, the father went off with them. He had the same name as his son, so he went in his place. After a few days he was released. Their son was far away by then, down south.
 This time the son was in prison and they didn't want the father. So what could the father do, except stand in the front room, in his underpants, hands in the sagging pockets of his cardigan, watching the soldiers moving back and forth between the front and back doors of his home.
 He was trying to think of something to say. His children and his wife were sat about in their nightclothes; they weren't looking at him.
 'Yous think you know it all,' was what he'd told them up at Castlereagh, the interrogation centre, when they'd come to realize their mistake. The first day they'd had him hands against the wall, legs apart, and when his knees weakened they'd shouted at him or kicked him. He'd not had anything he could tell them. Nor had he defied them. For two days they'd stopped him from sleeping, told him to sweep the hallway and when he'd sat down, they'd emptied out the bucket again and gone kicking the dust, cigarette butts, apple cores, and empty bleach bottles down along the corridor. Then they'd handed him back the broom. They let him go first thing on the third morning.
 He'd got off lightly, he knew it, when he stepped outside, turned his collar up and set off, thesky all of one colour, a licked pale grey. It was a damp morning to come home on, and no one was about. He'd had to wait for the dinnertime session for the telling.
 His son, Sean, had been inside Long Kesh for a month now. These men knew that. They were there because of the boy, because of where they lived, because they had another son and because they were Catholic.
 There was a stack of rifles on the living room floor. 'Don't you be touching those,' he said to his children in a low voice with a light whistle in it, the air from the open front door catching on his back teeth. 'They leave them there on purpose to see what the kids know.'
 From upstairs came the sound of a door being forced, once, twice, and through. His wife shook her head.
 'It's true,' said her husband. 'They do.'
 The electric light was impotent, the daylight had taken over and so his wife got up to switch it off and pull back the curtains that gave on to their scrap of back garden–some grass, bare patches, a washing line with a pair of pants on it, legs sewn to hold pegs. To the right-hand side of the line, within the creosote armpit of a shed, was a gap that went through to the next street. The last time, she'd had a go at the soldiers when they came in, she'd jumped up to stall them, to make sure her son got away through that gap. She'd kept them then at the front door, offered them her husband herself. 'If it's Sean you're after, well here he is.' And sure enough they looked at the man in his jumper and Y-fronts and agreed he'd do. She, herself, had had him by one of his sleeves, shaking it.
 'Who gave you permission to come in my house?' she said now.
 'We've got all the permission we need,' said one, loafing by the sideboard, looking at her ornaments.
 'You've got the guns is all.'
 'We're not the only ones. Show us where you keep yours and we'll be away.'
 'Liam, show the man your water pistol.'
 Upstairs, they were crow-barring the floorboards, emptying drawers and cupboards. There wasn't a house in Ballymurphy that hadn't been pulled apart by the British Army. The soldier at the sideboard was going through those drawers, taking out chequebooks and bills, newspaper cuttings and photos. He left the drawers open, looked again, then picked up a black rubber bullet that was on the top shelf. It was about three inches long and an inch wide.
 'Souvenir?' he asked her.
 'Is it one of yours?' she asked. 'One just like that was fired into the face of my neighbour's boy. Fifteen years old. His mother's only son and now he can't even feed himself.' One of the soldier's boots came through the ceiling into the living room and a shower of brown dust came shooting down. 'Jesus, Joseph and Mary! And what if this was your own mother's home?'
 'My mother didn't raise a terrorist,' said the soldier by the door to the hallway, leaning back, looking casual. He was tall, his back was straight, his eyes blue. He was in his twenties, smart in his uniform, his beret poised. There was a light white powder in the air. When her husband made to go into the kitchen, the soldier told him to sit down.
 Those who'd been upstairs came clattering down the narrow stairway, one after the other until most of them were in the front room, filling it entirely, with two more in the hall. A shorter man stood in the doorway with his hands up above his head holding on to the frame.
 'Clear, Sarge,' he said to the soldier at the sideboard.
 This man, their sergeant, took a last look around the living room, taking in the vases and knick-knacks on the sideboard and mantelpiece, a small pale blue Madonna, a large conch sea shell, a few dark-coloured glass vases with gilt lettering, place names, a maple-leaf shaped piece of wood with 'Canada' carved on to it.
 'You've got a nice home, Mrs,' he said. 'One of the cleanest I've been in anyway. Any chance of a cup of tea for the lads?'
 'Go fuck yourselves,' she said.
 Her younger son stood up beside her, the shoulders of his small frame rose and fell; with his mouth open, he was like a baby bird wanting to be fed.
 'Starting him off young, are you?' said the sergeant. 'That's what you call infantry, that is.' He threw a look at the handsome soldier.
 Kathleen pointed towards the door.
 'Out, yous!'
 They were in no rush. The sergeant took another look around, clapped his hands together, strolled across to the stairwell and gave the order. His men started to move themselves, gather the guns. The last one out was the handsome soldier, who looked up at the framed poster of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on his way and tutted. He tipped the barrel of his rifle at the wife, touching her very lightly at her throat, where her dressing gown crossed. 'I bet you were one of them who used to be nice to us, once.'
 Her cheeks flushed, Kathleen went to the front door to close it after them. She saw that the porch light had been smashed in. 'Ach for God's sake!' she called out, and started to shove the jarred door with fury and hurt. 'Harassment, that's all it is,' said her husband, coming up behind her, his voice growing as they watched the men going down the path and through the front gate. 'To keep us in our place . . .'
 'And what are you going to do about it?' she said, turning to him.
 He had a moment to look at her, her face backing into the new daylight, her neck stretching, a space between utterances, and he said nothing, paused between difficult things.
 And then she was moving. 'Go up and get yourselves dressed,' she yelled at the children. 'Can't any of you do anything without me telling you?'
 'Why did they come round here, Mummy?' said Aine, a brown envelope and a pen in her hands; she'd been sitting drawing pictures while the soldiers were there.
 'Will you up and get yourself dressed, Aine, please. Don't make me say it again.'
 'They'll be back again soon enough anyway.'
 Upstairs, her brother, Liam, was taking two empty jam jars out from under his bed. 'You've to go in one, and I'll go in the other,' he told his sister.
 'I can fill them both,' said the girl, 'I'm bursting now.'
 'Just do the one.'
 She went off towards the bathroom. Then she was back. 'What's it for, Liam?'
 'For when the Brits come along by the side window, down the alleyway,' he said, pushing the cardboard box back under his bed.
 Hearing her daughter fumbling with the bathroom lock the mother called up the stairs. 'For God's sake. No one's coming in to watch you peeing, Aine. We've got a television.'
 The father was standing near the kitchen with his hands out, dripping water, shaking them just a little, waiting for his wife to show him the dishcloth.
 Kathleen was bent in front of the television, tending to it. In her thin nightdress, her body was long, spare curves. The drone of the TV made a sudden acceleration, jumping from hum to chatter. The picture filled the screen; the outside world sprang.
Copyright Louise Dean, 2005
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Excerpted from This Human Season by Dean, Louise Copyright © 2007 by Dean, Louise. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

LOUISE DEAN lives in France. Becoming Strangers, long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize and winner of the Betty Trask Award, is her first book.

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