The power and the glory that was Belfast

What should we make of present-day Belfast and its compelling, fractious backstory? English visitors have long found the city invigorating, confusing or exasperating – often all three – but undeniably characterful. Philip Larkin, who lived there for five years in the 1950s, noted its ‘draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint/Archaic smell of dockland’ and found himself enjoying the ambiance: ‘the salt rebuff of speech/ insisting so on difference, made me welcome’. Not so Sir Reginald Maudling, on his first visit as home secretary amid the escalating sectarian insanity of 1970. He boarded the plane back to London with the words: ‘For God’s sake, bring me a large Scotch. What

A bitter sectarian divide: Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart, reviewed

Douglas Stuart has a rare gift. The Scottish writer, whose debut novel Shuggie Bain deservedly won the 2020 Booker Prize, creates vivid characters, settings and images without letting his literary skill get in the way of plot. His second novel, Young Mungo, has a similar feel and is in many ways a kind of sequel. The characters are different, as is the Glaswegian housing scheme and the year – we are now in 1993 rather than the 1980s – but the milieu is familiar. The protagonist, Mungo Hamilton, is a frail, fatherless 15-year-old, but appears much younger. His complexion, vocal tic and poor-fitting clothes lead people to think he’s ‘thirteen,