The Ghost Factory

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Member Reviews

There is a lot of interest and talk araound Irish literature at the moment, enhanced by last years  Booker prize winner Milkman by Anna Burns ( a book that found little merit with me) As an expat from the green and damp bogs of Northern Ireland I am always keen to sample the delights, insights and opinions that a new book can reveal by a previously unknown author: Jenny McCartney. I need not have been concerned The Ghost Factory is a delight to read.

The novel is set post the troubles of the 1970's but Belfast is a city still scarred by its unenviable past, still lacking real investment, an economy mortally wounded. When our narrator Jacky witness an act of savagery upon his friend Mitch, and later is himself the recipient of a brutal beating, he is forced to flee and seek sanctuary in London. However the love of his birthland and a burning need for revenge acts as an open wound encouraging him to return to right the ways of his past.

What I loved about the author's style was her ability to bring to life the mindset of the battle weary  Irish populace, the clipped hard "Ulster" speak and the dark brooding Irish humour. Highly Recommended
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Strong debut by Jenny McCartney.  Lovely dark wit throughout the pages to counteract the overall darkness of the time in which its set.  Found the characters to be believable and relatable.  

Highly recommended.

With thanks to Netgalley and Harper for the arc.
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This was such an unexpected read. Whatever my preconceptions were, this book completely banished them. 
This isn’t my usual read, but after watching a recent documentary detailing the troubles and events in Belfast in the 90’s I was intrigued and more than interested to learn more about it. 
The writing is concise, informative & direct. With that touch of wit that really strikes a chord with the reader. A fascinating story that is made all the more incredible due to the truth of it all. 
Thank you to Netgalley, the author and the publisher for my arc. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
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This is a smart, witty novel set largely in the milieu of the troubles in Belfast. A tight story, believable characters, a propensity for violence tempered by mercy and the ties of family all combine to great effect.

I wasn’t initially convinced by the third,
contemporary, section, but in retrospect the tone was right and true to the earlier material, and the wrapping up of characters was neatly and effectively done.
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The Ghost Factory is the story of a young boy growing up in the chaos and senseless violence of Belfast in the 90s, and the danger that sees him flee to London. While I enjoyed the story, it is the way it is written that is very impressive. There are long, beautiful passages that reflect on senses of place and home and family, and more surprising turns of phrases and combinations of images to conjure something unexpected out of ordinary scenes, like the London restaurant the main character later works in. I feel uneasy marking pages of a book so I was happy to read this on my kindle so I could underline liberally! More than anything else I’m excited to see what Jenny McCartney does next.
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‘Ireland was susceptible to the whispers of ghosts, and so we made more of them.’

The Night Factory is another entry in the ever-growing body of Irish literature about the Troubles. McCartney sets her debut novel during the ceasefires of the mid 1990s, subsequent to the conflict’s height in the 70s & 80s. In doing so, she focuses not on the two warring sides, but on the damage inflicted by paramilitaries on their own communities, where they instilled fear and ‘enforced’ loyalty through intimidation, meted out punishments for the smallest of infractions, ‘rompered’ suspected informants and ran protection rackets.

The narrator is Jacky, a young street-smart Belfast man who, having grown up in this climate, thinks he knows how to steer clear of danger. The percolating violence nevertheless catches up with Jacky and after a harrowing run-in with the local heavies, he seeks refuge and anonymity in London. It is not long before events draw him back to Belfast and an ill-advised confrontation. The book’s pacing varies, with long stretches of tense, foreboding calm punctuated by a few energetic and suspenseful sequences.  

Part 3 of the book jumps ahead to the present day, in what serves as a protracted epilogue revealing the long, long tail of conflict – as communities remain scarred and past crimes reverberate decades later. McCartney also grapples with the way in which the world today reflects some of the same patterns of fear and tribalism. The way this section tied off loose ends (a little too comprehensively) took some of the air out of the preceding story for me.

Where this book shines is the confident writing: simple and direct, filled with wry humour and hard-won wisdom. McCartney can take anyone’s measure and serve it up to you in a few snappy lines, and she turns an equally eloquent phrase when conveying brutality or pathos. This is an impressive debut.
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This book chronicles Jacky's experience of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. When we meet him, he is still trying to come to terms with the death of his father. He also witnesses his best friend Titch being badly beaten, having crossed swords with the wrong people. He is eager to leave this life, Belfast having changed for the worse and, after some trouble of his own, he flees to London to start again. But, just as things are starting to get good for him both workwise and on a personal level, home keeps calling him and, despite the danger returning will put him in, the lure is too strong and reluctantly he returns. 
I have read a few books set in NI in the days of the Troubles but this one was a little different to them as it focused more on things going on outside of the main fighting that became more than personal to our hero Jacky. His experience and interaction with the thugs that now rule the streets. We learn of his past in flashback, drip fed in at the right moments to complement the present day narrative. How he longs for a better life and how he is forced to put those plans into action in fear of his life. But then, with the past never really being in the past, we see the sacrifices he makes to go back and try and reconcile the young man he used to be, in order for him to continue on the new life path he has tried to forge for himself. 
Characterisation was brilliant. In Jacky, the author has created a very well rounded character, fleshed out by flashbacks, and very easy to connect to. I do remember hearing on the news about what happened in Ireland back in the day so I was familiar with most of the tales of the Troubles as told herein and I thought that the author's retelling was handled with great sensitivity and realism. 
With what is happening in the UK at the moment, it's important to reflect on the past. I won't make my review a political rant but reading this book at this time was an eye opener for me and does, in some way, make me fear a little for the future.
My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book.
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I was surprised by The Ghost Factory. It is dramatic, emotional, funny at times and philosophical. It goes into such interesting details and it has such a depth and beauty that once you start reading you don’t want to stop.  It is one of these novels that tell you why to live even when things have gone so wrong.

Highly recommended.
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Thankyou to NetGalley, HarperCollins UK, 4th Edition, William Collins, Fourth Estate and the author, Jenny McCartney, for the opportunity to read an advanced readers copy of The Ghost Factory in exchange for an honest and unbiased opinion.
I thought this book was a good read. It was well written and haunting. I can't wait to read more from this author.
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Part coming-of-age in Belfast, part meditation on the legacy of the Troubles: this is told by Jacky, a young Protestant who tries to keep himself at a distance from the sectarian violence surrounding him, but finds himself drawn in when his friend is beaten. Told in a straightforward style, this is perhaps best for readers who haven't read much fiction set in Belfast - I had a strong sense of deja vu throughout... Still, that message about kindness can never be over-emphasised - 3.5 stars.
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“The IRA men of the 1970s heard the ghosts of the 1916 rebels whispering: the voices that said those who still dared to fight, kill and die would gain the true, whole, pure Ireland. The voices that said that there was still the North to be won, waiting for those with enough passion to seize it”.

I was fully engrossed by this impressive debut novel set in the bedevilled city of Belfast during what is always euphemistically referred to as ‘The Troubles’ – coincidentally the same territory (in both senses of the word) covered by this year’s Booker Prize winning novel. 
This version of life during the civil war of attrition in Northern Ireland has a conventional style of narration, which nevertheless communicates a powerful message regarding the senselessness of the sectarian conflict. 
We are drawn in by the engaging, often humorous, relating of the events which lead the narrator to flee Belfast, away from the bullying of thugs and the abuse of power by political and religious ideologues, only to return later to seek revenge and to settle old scores. 
The insights provided by his personal story are not overly stressed in a moralising way but we are left with this cautionary note :

"I can feel it in the air. It’s coming at us again, this time in England and beyond, another time when the rules are shredded, when unreason starts to swagger. Voices are aggrieved and growing shrill, slicing through the old wrappings of courtesy. Everyone yells that no one else can understand them. Everyone talks more than they listen, staking out their place on Twitter and Facebook with swear words in capitals and bellowing self-righteousness. I don’t think they’ll stop it now. It’s all too exciting, until it isn’t any more, and by then it’s too late. Back home we found that out the hard way."
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The protagonist, Jack, is haunted by the ghosts of his troubled past; he produces both cynical and emotional, and at times nostalgic, understandings of Ireland's experiences as well as his own. McCartney's prose is clear and poignant, it makes for an engrossing read.
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Irish fiction is really buzzing these days and I was delighted to get my hands on this novel from the (until recently) under-represented Northern Ireland.  By a female author but written from the perspective of a young man, we follow the lead-up to his having to leave the violence of his home city of Belfast in the 1990s, the new life and love he forges for himself in the anonymity of London, then a return to lay the ghosts of his troubled past.  Jenny McCartney creates a wholly sympathetic character in Jacky, haunted by his inability to protect his friends and family, and torn between starting afresh and avenging past wrongs.  His musings reveal insights into his own and his country’s experiences that steer just clear of cynicism or sentimentality - ‘Ireland was susceptible to the whispers of ghosts, and so we made more of them’.  Mostly, though, the story is a celebration of understanding and kindness in terrible times.
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