Kevin Barry, Young Irish Novelist to Watch and Read

Kevin Barry, who appeared bright on the literary horizon with his outstanding debut novel City of Bohane, has a new, second novel out titled Beatlebone, that plays on Beatle fandom, John Lennon’s concerns about his creativity, and his excursion into a magical mystery tour of sorts. We look forward to reading it and reporting on it to you in the near future. In the meantime, give City of Bohane a try, after reading what we had to say about it.

City of Bohane

By Kevin Barry

Read the book jacket blurbs and reviews and you would rightly imagine City of Bohane as an amalgam of A Clockwork Orange, Mad Max, and the Gangs of New York, not to mention graphic comics, particularly Frank Miller’s Sin City. We might even toss in The Godfather, as we think back on the film’s opening scene wherein the obsequious mortician requests help in avenging the stolen reputation of his daughter and an almost corresponding pleading in City of Bohane made of Logan Hartnett, leader of the Hartnett Fancy gang, to revenge the honor of a cuckolded butcher. While it’s true you can find elements of all these influences in Kevin Barry’s debut novel, along with traditional story lines of rival lovers and the intrigue of ascension to power, you’ll also discover much that is special and unique, features that raise City of Bohane well above the usual fare of current fiction.

The writing stands out, first and foremost. We’d compare reading City of Bohane to listening to a long musical composition, or hearing a storyteller spin his tale in his own poetical language. Barry has drawn on Irish slang (helpful dictionaries available online but most words easily gasped in context) and his own syntactical inventiveness to bring his future society, which rings strongly of the primordial, to life. This may be one of the most vivid novels you’ll read this year, or for many more.

Here’s a sample describing the rising influence of the colorful, cunning, and coldblooded Jenni Ching, a principal player, who would be dynamite to watch in a film adaptation, as weirdly enticing as Lisbeth Salander: “The girls started to run in a wilding pack in the Trace. There were all-girl roisters in the midnite yards. You were a girl in Bohane, in the springtime of ’54, you had a shkelp in your inside pocket, and a stogie on the chomp, and you walked the wynds with that Ching-patented S’town glide.” That’s 2054 and Jenni is 17.

And another of boss Hartnett taking his ease at the Ho Pee Oh-Kay Koffee Shoppe, with the missus, Macu, and Ho Pee boss-lady, Jenni: “–Mr Logan Hartnett, aka the Albino, aka the Long Fella, and he was there breezing on the moment, and with a toothpick he worked lumps of cashew from the gaps between his yellow teeth. He was all got up in a wowser of a straight-cut grey vinyl suit–its sheen catching the Ho Pee’s fairy-light glow–and there was a matching grey vinyl mackintosh laid over the back of his chair.”

On and on Barry goes, with descriptions of buildings, people, their fashion (colorfully eclectic and depicted in photographic detail), their personal habits, their thoughts, and their oftentimes unrestrained viciousness.

And lest you wonder, well enough, but what about the story, you’ll find two intertwined. One deals with Hartnett’s sense that he has little time left as boss of the Hartnett Fancy, that some close may be marshaling against him, and the intrigue of the maneuverings and his counters. The second concerns the return of the Gant, former leader of the Fancy, gone 25 years, heartbroken over losing Macu, intent upon renewing what he remembers they shared. Of course, she is wife to Hartnett.

Above, we described Bohane as primordial. Bohane seethes with tribal passion, with offenses leading directly to death, with battles resulting from insult and murder, and from the need to maintain strength and power, all exercised in raw personal contact. That’s to say, in this future city of Bohane, you will see no cars, no computers, no phones or cell phones, and, most intriguing, no firearms. In Bohane, the Fancy, the Norrie, the sand-pikey inflict damage and death with the knife, with any bludgeoning tool at hand, with fists, and with steel-capped stomping boots. There’s something especially visceral and intimate about these methods of death dealing, as you’ll see if, as the Sweet Baba Jay would want, you choose to read City of Bohane.

Highly recommended for Barry’s lyrical style, for memorable characters, and for a distinct retelling of tales as old as time. w/c

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