Literary Review: Dennis Burton - Lagan River, Black Mountain

Paperback Cover - Lagan River, Black Mountain Vol. 1

Lagan River, Black Mountain Vol. 2

Dennis Burton

Lagan River, Black Mountain

Volume 1: The Long Slide

Dennis Burton / Custom Books Publishing, 2010

ISBN-10: 1451539959
ISBN-13/EAN-13: 9781451539950

Lagan River, Black Mountain

Volume 2: Divide And Rule

Dennis Burton / Custom Books Publishing, 2010

ISBN-10: 1451575068
ISBN-13/EAN-13: 9781451575064

Available from, Amazon UK and other online sources

Date Reviewed:
2010/08/05 - Revised 2010/10/05


Lagan River, Black Mountain

Dennis Burton's Lagan River, Black Mountain, an epic novel in two volumes, is currently looking for a mainstream publisher. However, in the meantime it should be available as a POD edition from Amazon as indicated above. Burton is an established author with a formidable track record and several bestselling novels and biographies to his credit. For this novel, for a variety of reasons, the author has chosen to write under a pseudonym.

Lagan River, Black Mountain is the story of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, with the two volumes spanning the period of 1941 to roughly 1994 and the beginnings of the peace initiative that, for the last fourteen years or so, has brought a - very - fragile and sometimes faltering "peace" to Northern Ireland. Volume One, The Long Slide, covers the years 1941 to 1969, to the renewed full outbreak of the conflict, while Volume Two, Divide And Rule, takes up the story in 1969 and moves it on to about 1994. There are, however, also references to and insights into the more distant past and the roots of "The Troubles" in history.

Most of the major events encountered in Lagan River, Black Mountain are based on historical fact, however, in some cases they have been modified to a greater or lesser extent in the interests of the fictional narrative. Burton's concern in this work is the unrelenting pursuit of truth rather than that of mere facts. Indeed, as Burton so rightly states in his preliminary note to the reader, "Fiction, after all, is not the pursuit of facts, but the pursuit of truth."

The narrative clearly shows the hand of a master craftsman of a storyteller and has the reader completely riveted from start to finish of the roughly 1,300-odd pages of the combined two volumes. Lagan River, Black Mountain is almost impossible to put down until read right through to the end. The need to have to put up with interruptions for food, ablutions and the like is indeed most frustrating.

The leading characters are as finely crafted as the narrative, ordinary, mostly working class, mostly decent, people from both sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide in Belfast, inexorably drawn into the vicious circle of sectarian violence through prejudice, demagoguery, poverty and exploitation, brutalised by their environment and the events unfolding around them and as sectarianism rapidly deteriorates into its own kind of corruption and into an excuse and a means for criminal gain.

Burton tells the story of Lagan River, Black Mountain through the lives of mainly two generations of two families, one from each side of the divide, the Protestant Hamiltons and the Catholic Coogans. Both are the tragic products of their history, of the history of Northern Ireland as well as of Ireland as a whole. Their paths run close and are inexorably drawn closer and eventually cross with tragic results.

True to life, there are few straightforward plain blacks and whites in Lagan River, Black Mountain. Rather, there is a full scale of greys, and that's only as it ought to be. Burton does not "take sides", he is only concerned with truth - however unpalatable or inconvenient - and reveals the story of "The Troubles" as the enormous, sad and sickening tragedy that it is and that envelops both sides. Both sides come out equally badly or equally well, or even both, depending on one's point of view. The conflict, ultimately, comes down to a centuries old struggle for power and possession, and the inequities and brutal exploitation of ordinary people by the capitalist system, in which both sides of the divide have become the victims.

In Lagan River, Black Mountain, Dennis Burton provides more, deeper, and better insights into this conflict and its roots than any dry historic treatise ever could.

Lagan River, Black Mountain truly is a grand epic novel, and I would go so far as to say it is the Belfast novel, a modern, Northern Irish War And Peace without being as dry as Tolstoy. Deeply moving, at times deeply shocking, with just the right amount of good humour to prevent this work from becoming depressing or tedious, Dennis Burton's Lagan River, Black Mountain is a highly evocative, often even charming, historical epic with elements of a political thriller that is nigh on impossible to put down.

This epic work could hardly be more timely, when the "peace" is perhaps more fragile than since its early days, especially given the events surrounding this year's Twelfth of July Orange Order "celebrations" and the bombings or attempted bombings in Northern Ireland that have followed. Never has a novel been more deserving of a mainstream publisher, and it is to be hoped fervently that one will grab this golden opportunity by the horns soon.

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