For anyone who remembers the De Lorean fiasco, this is an essential read. It is a novel, not a historical account of what happened, and that does mean that at least some of the story is invented because some of the characters are the products of the author’s imagination. I do not even know if there was someone called Edmund Randall, who is the protagonist. I have not bothered to check, because it would not add anything to the novel to find out if he is real or not. In the novel, it is Edmund Randall, a motor journalist, who sets John Z. De Lorean to thinking about a truly innovative car simply by asking a question about the car that De Lorean was trying to sell to the American public. Whether this is true or not, I do not know and I can think of even less reason to care. That is part of the joy of this book. It carries you along with the story that the author wishes to tell. It is, of course, a true story but it is told as Glenn Patterson wishes to tell it, and that is as an historical romp with consequences.
There are a hell of a lot of egos at play in this book. The first is that of John Z De Lorean himself, a visionary, and a charlatan. The second is Margaret Thatcher, convinced that she was right and that there was no alternative. Then there is Bobby Sands, convinced to the point of death in the Irish Republican cause. The only one of these three that is an actual character in the book is De Lorean himself. Thatcher is once on the end of a telephone and Bobby Sands is a brooding presence in prison. The three of them, however, dominate the book because it is their actions that determine the fate of the De Lorean car and therefore the Belfast factory. Everyone else is by comparison a pawn in a game that is driven by ideology, finance and sheer bloody stubbornness.
There are some nasty characters in this book. Of course, there are the gunman, everywhere, but lurking in the shadows. We never get to meet them, but we know they are there because we do get to meet the armoured police, the security guards and we feel the fear. And then there is the Conservative MP, Nicholas Winterton, who makes a damaging comment, because of his ideological opposition to state intervention. [I admit that I have always had a particular dislike of this man because of his vehement opposition to imposing sanctions against apartheid South Africa, and his intervention in the De Lorean case only confirms me in my opinion of the man].
Amidst all this politicking there are ordinary people, like Liz and Robert and their two boys, trying to make lives for themselves in such a difficult situation. There is TC, who wants to become s supervisor and who is taking his City and Guilds exams. There is Anto, who is a good solid trade unionist, and June, who is having an affair or two, while her fiance is on the rigs. These are ordinary people, working at or connected to the De Lorean factory, and whose lives are dependent upon the successful manufacture of a new, revolutionary car. These are the people who you feel for. These are the victims of the machinations of the financiers, of the government and of their own history.
Glenn Patterson leads his readers through all the complexities of this plot with great skill. He makes sure that you are aware of the historical developments while concentrating on the lives of his protagonists, particularly Edmund Randall and Liz. He tells his tale with a skill and compassion, and even manages to make us feel sorry for De Lorean himself. That, in itself, is an achievement.
This is not a history of the De Lorean company. It is not a history of Northern Ireland during the troubles. But it gives you a feel for the time and for a lost opportunity. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.