Dan, the muted young I.R.A. terrorist of “High Dive” (Knopf), Jonathan Lee’s achingly good new novel, allows himself a moment during the mid-nineteen-eighties to contemplate Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide. Even while in the murderous thick of it, he feels the sort of bafflement that non-Muslims tend to experience when considering the ancient estrangement of Shia and Sunni: “Despite believing in a similar God,” he reflects of the Irish, “their ancestors disagreed over the sufficiency of Scripture, the completeness of certain words in a book, the authority and office of the Pope.” Sixteen years into the Troubles, Dan realizes that the violence in Ulster has claimed “not only the victims’ lives but large parts of the witnesses too. You disintegrated into the recriminations, the headlines, the pictures. . . . It seemed that the world was dimming.”
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tended to regard the Irish problem as a “distraction” from her larger domestic and international endeavors, according to Charles Moore, her most recent biographer. (She reportedly considered building a fence between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.) Negotiations with Garret FitzGerald, her Irish counterpart, put her in a political position she generally detested: the middle. In 1985, having agreed to some modest accommodation of the Catholics in the North, she provoked the fury of Protestant Unionists—the Reverend Ian Paisley, their leader, prayed, “O God, in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman”—while the I.R.A., which had already nearly succeeded in killing her, continued to bide its time and lick its chops. “Remember, we have only to be lucky once,” an I.R.A. statement read. “You will have to be lucky always.”
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