“When you hear some of the stories, you can see plain that the old times were not a bit different than today.”
Set during the end of the Troubles, Country by Michael Hughes centres on a fighter named Achil’s rage, black and murderous. He’s a war hero to locals and a terror to the British occupying force.
Achil is a sniper with godlike aim who leaves his enemies scattered about the earth for dogs and birds to feed on, a man it’s unwise to make angry. The leader of his troop, however, named Pig, embarrasses Achil by stealing his girl – and by ‘his’ girl I mean that in the sense of ownership; girls are treated as little more than property to be bartered with by this group.
Sulking in his house accompanied by his friend Pat, drinking tea and brooding over old stories, Achil refuses to take up his weapon and kill a single person until his girl is returned. Deaf to the cries of his countrymen, his feud with Pig sets their company on a path towards destruction.
This novel makes the hunger of citizens to take back land stolen from them by a hungry colony power feel intense yet desperate, seemingly hopeless yet vital. Hughes’ echoes of the Iliad, an epic I deeply love, gives a gripping and grand feel to this gritty, perfectly paced novel of war and misery.
Innocents are tortured or worse, while the guiltiest men sit in offices and get off with firm handshakes. How can peace be achieved when many soldiers don’t want the anger in their bellies to fade, as peace might make all they’ve fought for been for nothing?
I tore through chapters then had to stop myself so I might enjoy this book in full; I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, then became worried I was reading too fast and might miss an important shot or vital piece of dialogue in my rush to see what happened next.
Hughes has a gift for putting readers in miserable situations and making them rush back for more.