I like to think it finished in Belfast's Ikea store.

I don't mean the Troubles finished there (or the trouble per se), but that curious, dizzying, disorientating day when Martin McGuinness and the Reverend Ian Paisley sat laughing and joking on the sofa in the newly opened Swedish furniture store back in 2007 did seem to mark the end of something. An end point for a historical moment perhaps, one that suggested we were in a different place now. Not necessarily better (Louis Macneice's line, "And the North, where I was a boy/ Is still the North," holds true even now, although for many in the province things have improved). But different certainly.

The question is, how do we respond to that? No doubt people will continue to write books about the Troubles (I would say that, of course – I'm one of them). But there's a chance now to pull out and cut to long shot. A chance to reframe the image we have of Northern Ireland. You can see it in the new novels from Glenn Patterson and David Park. Park's new novel, The Light Of Amsterdam – set in the December George Best died – pulls back geographically, looking at Northern Ireland from a holiday in Holland. Patterson makes his shift a temporal one. His frame is historical. I'm not sure, though, it's totally in focus. The writing is sharp, the purpose less so.

The Mill For Grinding Old People Young travels back in time to the first half of the 19th century when Belfast was still more a town than a city (official city status didn't come until 1888). But even then it was big enough and old enough to have known sectarian and political tensions. The 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen is still in Belfast's DNA as the book's narrative begins.

As Robert McLiam Wilson points out at the start of the great Troubles novel Eureka Street, "All stories are love stories", and Patterson's is no different. It's a story told by Gilbert Rice, who has found work in an office in the city's port, starts hanging out in pubs and falls for Maria, a Polish barmaid, who has been washed up in the town fleeing another rebellion in Poland. To Rice, Poland's story is more complex than anything Ireland can offer. "So complicated were the affairs of Poland – so numerous even were the names by which it had been known – that Ireland's history was made to seem straightforward, the history of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, a model of harmony and decorum in comparison."

Maria's father and her lover both took part in the Polish uprising. She, meanwhile, drifted to London and then Belfast, recalling the stories her father told her of his own Parisian exile and of a young Irishman he had met there, one Wolfe Tone. "You must take care where you utter that name," Rice tells her, already smitten by Maria and her story. Soon he will prepare himself to follow the path of violence in her name.

Which is a problem, I think. Patterson's love story is elegantly told, but Rice's passion – and the twisted path he is ready to follow for it – is not totally convincing. It feels like a PLOT DEVELOPMENT (in extra-large bold letters) rather than something that grows organically out of what we've been told in the run-up to its appearance.

Patterson has written better novels in the past. This one is a little too blurred to truly count. And yet it has its moments. In its pages you can find another vision of Belfast: a city in thrall to shopping and drinking and the races, a place for pleasure as much as politics. It's worth remembering that is – and was – always the case. No city has only one story to tell. Not even Belfast.