Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

29 April 2004 Edition

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Escape from good grammar

Book Review

Break Out!

Famous Prison Escapes

By Paddy Hayes

O'Brien Press

Few things frustrate me more in life than critics. I've often thought that it's far easier to make a negative criticism of somebody else's work than to actually create something yourself. For that reason, I generally stay away from the reviewing section in our paper. Occasionally, I will pick up a book we've been sent and have a look, but it's rarely for the purpose of a post mortem.

However, one of the other things that really annoys me is bad writing. Now stop laughing — I might not be a literary genius, but thankfully I've an editor who has taught me the meaning of punctuation, grammar, spelling, not repeating myself, never using a big word when a small word will do, etc, etc. (And not to use etc at the end of sentences — forgive me). And anyone who overuses exclamation marks should be taken out and shot!!

So when I picked up Break Out! last Sunday and began reading, I found myself facing a dilemma. How could I tell you how badly written this book was, without being a critic? After much soul-searching, I decided that my pet hate of bad writing outweighed my dislike of opinionated, often talentless, whingers, and so here we are.

Don't get me wrong, for anyone who hasn't heard of or read the stories behind some of the great republican break outs of the last century, this book is a great introduction. It covers the Derry prison breakout of 1943, the Maidstone's 'Magnificent Seven', the Mountjoy Helicopter escape, the Great Escape from Long Kesh in 1983, and also two stories about the Littlejohns' escape in 1974 and German spy Gunter Schutz's escape in 1942.

I didn't live through any of these escapes (well I was four in 1983, but Sinn Féin had yet to recruit me). I come from the generation that hears of them spoken as legends, but doesn't actually know a whole lot about them.

In that regard, this book was a handy starter for me. But leaving that aside, I really feel that the stories would have been better served in the hands of a more competent writer.

From alternating styles - one minute it's a factual account, the next he's fictitiously describing what's going on in our 'hero's head', to plain repetitiveness, eg - "To gain access to the circle one had to pass through a similar gate. One left the circle the same way and to leave the block one had to get through a large security fence which had a couple of airlock security gates in it. Even if one were to make it this far, one was still within the main prison compound and one would have to negotiate the Tally Lodge"(just count those ones), reading this book had me wincing on every second page.

It was just full of clumsy, clumsy writing. And there is nothing more irritating.

These stories are brilliant but I don't think the author does them justice. I can only recommend this book to people who have never heard of these escapes. Anyone else should go find works like From Fetters to Freedom.


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