In His Sunday Suit

Stuart Kelly

  • All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney
    Faber, 329 pp, £12.99, August 2009, ISBN 978 0 571 23983 2

Sectarianism seldom plays any part in Scottish writing. One of the few exceptions – and the most pertinent to Liam McIlvanney’s novel – comes in Ian Rankin’s Mortal Causes (1994), the sixth in his bestselling Rebus series, whose plot hinges on the victim’s association with extreme Protestant groups. Mortal Causes was written in the run-up to the IRA ceasefire and set before the Shankill Road bombing, and there is a palpable sense that, while a political solution may be on the horizon, terrorism quickly mutates into gangsterism. The twist in the novel is the unideological nature of the young Scottish sectarian thug: he is an impoverished, disaffected, prospectless victim of a wider class battle. The fissiparous nature of Ulster Protestant militias – ‘UDA, UVF, UFF, UR’, as Rebus reels them off – doesn’t stop the excluded hooligan’s yearning to find in them a galvanising identity. Having a side in a fight is what matters.

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