Patrick Radden Keefe’s great achievement is to tell Northern Ireland’s 50 years of conflict through personal stories—a gripping and profoundly human explanation for a past that still denies and defines the future ... Only an outsider could have written a book this good. Irish or British writers are tainted by provenance ... [the book] handles the minefield scrupulously, dodges loaded vocabulary and allows people to condemn themselves by their actions ... Humanity shines through in the small anecdotes ... I can’t praise this book enough: it’s erudite, accessible, compelling, enlightening. I thought I was bored by Northern Ireland’s past until I read it.
If it seems as if I’m reviewing a novel, it is because Say Nothing has lots of the qualities of good fiction, to the extent that I’m worried I’ll give too much away, and I’ll also forget that Jean McConville was a real person, as were — are — her children ... Keefe is a terrific storyteller. It might seem odd, even offensive, to state it, but he brings his characters to real life. The book is cleverly structured ... Its closeness to the novel is a strength of Say Nothing and — I’m tempted to write — 'also a weakness.' But actually, it’s not a weakness, and only rarely a distraction ... [Keefe's] description of Dolours Price, a member of the I.R.A., in jail, on a hunger strike, being force-fed through a thin length of rubber hose, is vivid and quite rightly shocking ... What Keefe captures best, though, is the tragedy, the damage and waste, and the idea of moral injury ... The last section of the book, the tricky part of the story, life after violence, after the end, the unfinished business, the disappeared and the refusal of Jean McConville’s children to forget about her — I wondered as I read if Keefe was going to carry it off. He does. He deals very well with the war’s strange ending, the victory that wasn’t ... Say Nothing is an excellent account of the Troubles; it might also be a warning.
... an outsider’s perspective is what gives Say Nothing its exacting and terrifying lucidity ... Keefe follows the McConville story, interviewing more than a hundred sources and digging deeper and deeper, to the point where he comes to his own conclusion about who murdered her. But the culpability of any one individual is only part of this meticulously reported book ... Keefe’s narrative is an architectural feat, expertly constructed out of complex and contentious material, arranged and balanced just so ... Keefe’s depiction of Price is so rounded and intimate you’ll be surprised to learn that he never spoke to her ... This sensitive and judicious book raises some troubling, and perhaps unanswerable, questions.