Article published on January 22, 2016.
For the writer basing his novel on actual events there is always a risk that fact will beggar fiction; as author Glenn Patterson says in an opening note to his new novel Gull, “I made all of this up, apart from the bits you just couldn’t.” The challenge is laid down from the outset and the reader is left to judge whether or not it’s been met.
On balance, most readers will conclude that Patterson’s funny, ironic portrayal of the DeLorean saga is deftly handled. Patterson has recreated this bizarre episode – the construction, during the Northern Troubles, of a factory in West Belfast to make a luxury sports car – bringing DeLorean to energetic, seductive life through the eyes of his fixer in Belfast, a traumatised Vietnam veteran, and of a woman who takes a job in the factory against the wishes of her husband. All in all, Gull is a brilliant portrayal of a great American hustler, the car’s creator, the brilliant engineer, charismatic entrepreneur and world-class conman John DeLorean.
The story belongs to another era and through the mists of time, it can be difficult to grasp the reality of it. In this we are all “gulls”, as the title half-suggests. What makes it all the more incredible is that the car went into production at the height of the Troubles. Huge subsidies were provided by the British Government as an incentive to build a factory in depressed West Belfast, despite a consultant assessment that the business had little chance of success. The first car rolled off the production line during the time of the hunger strikes and social unrest of 1981. Sammy Davis Junior and Johnny Carson were among the first buyers. But the cars were over-priced, in a stagnant market, and the initial success could not last. Only 9000 cars were made before production halted in 1983.
For many of us, our first introduction to the DeLorean sports car with its gull-wing doors was in the legendary 1980s movie Back to the Future, when crazy inventor Dr Emmett Brown uses the car to create a machine for time travel, allowing teenager Marty McFly to travel back in time to 1955. Here, Glenn Patterson takes us back to 1981 and at times the story seems no less fantastic than the movie.
Glenn Patterson has become the most serious and humane chronicler of Northern Ireland over the past thirty years and this fictional account of the development and production of the DeLorean sports car can only enhance that reputation.
Bert Wright, Editor – The Nudge List
The House of Wolfe by James Carlos Blake
PROFILE: Reg Seward, a man of many interests, most of them non fiction
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