The Paperboy is a memoir set in 1970’s Belfast when the Troubles had not long begun. Anything I've read before depicting this era in Northern Ireland is told from the Nationalist point of view. Tony, the protagonist, however, is from the Shankill, a staunchly protestant area of Belfast (to this day) and is told from a Unionist perspective. His parents are quite progressive, though and he considers the Troubles ridiculous. He attends Belfast Royal Academy (his friends from the Shankill tease him by calling it by the acronym, ‘Bra.’) and a very good friend of his is Catholic, so he fails to see why everyone else can’t just get along.
The Troubles are very much a backdrop to the narrative of Tony’s life and as such don’t play a key role. I, for one, welcomed this as most of the books I’ve read set around the same period are focused heavily on the Troubles. I learned much more about Tony’s youthful career as a paperboy and, ‘aul Mac,’ his boss than I did about petrol-bombs and soldiers.
There was a very different feel to this memoir than other books of the period; optimism. I usually find if I read about the Troubles for any length of time I get an acute sense of claustrophobia. That wasn’t the case here. The Paperboy was filled with wit and humour, counteracting the turbulent time perfectly. If you’re looking for a book to educate you about this time period I would look elsewhere, as it’s more about pop culture (bay city rollers etc) and youth.
As soon as I finished The Paperboy I started the next book in the trilogy which tells of Tony’s adolescent years as a bread delivery boy. I found the atmosphere in that one a little more cloying, though and elected to read it another time. I’m sure it’ll still be great, though. I really hope the author puts on a local event. It’s Belfast book week very shortly and I’m going to a number of events, including one I can’t wait for with the authors Paul McVeigh and Lisa McInerney. I haven’t seen one that Tony’s at, though.