Iain Maloney has done it again. He has written a book that simply must be read. It is hard to think of a more difficult subject to write about than the Piper Alpha disaster, except of course the Lockerbie disaster of the same year, and James Robertson has already written about that. This book arose out of a conversation and Robertson’s book and Maloney was urged to tackle the subject I am just so glad that this happened, and Maloney took the risk
It cannot have been easy for an Aberdonian born in the 1980s to write this. There are just so many sensibilities that could be deeply offended: so many dead, so many bereaved, so many lives affected in so many ways. It would be so easy to get this wrong, and Maloney does not.
Maloney writes the story of a fictional survivor, and his family and the effect that the disaster has upon their lives. I think that it helps that this story is written by an Aberdonian because his knowledge of the city gives a solid grounding in which he can build his tale. And it also helps that he tells the tale in retrospect, as Carrie Fraser returns to Aberdeen to deliver a conference paper that will set the cat amongst the pigeons. Carrie’s speciality is vulcanology, and her link to the Piper Alpha disaster is that her father, Marcus, was on the platform that night and survived
Marcus has found his method of coping in the bottle, having refused all other help. His marriage was already falling apart when the disaster happened, his wife already involved in a long-term affair. But it is Marcus’ failure to come to terms with surviving that puts the nails in the coffin of his marriage. This leaves Carrie trying to hold everything together and failing because she has to lead a life of her own.
The whole story revolves around Carrie trying to build a life for herself, and we learn about Piper Alpha through the way that her life develops. Maloney leads us through the tale with great sensitivity and understanding. In this, he is masterly. It is an astonishing tour-de-force. It is an object lesson in how an author of fiction should approach the telling of a real-life tragedy of this kind, where 167 men lost their lives in a horrifying inferno.
It is really difficult to find the words that are adequate to the task of praising this book. If you want to understand modern Scotland, this book is necessary. If you want an insight into the nature of trauma, this book is essential. It is not an easy read, but it will make you care deeply. That can only benefit you.