Kevin Barry is a genius. He is doing with his life and his gift exactly what he was put on this earth to do and continues the long and great line of Irish writers. His debut novel City of Bohane (Jonathan Cape, May, 2011 and forthcoming, Graywolf Press, March, 2012) is an original and remarkable work of inventiveness.
Set in the fictional and futuristic city of Bohane, somewhere in the West of Ireland in 2053, this is a dark and harrowing tale that is at turns horrific and stunning. For all the memorable and well-dressed characters, gripping plot twists, and brilliant molding of lyric language, the work holds up a truth about the Irish psyche that has long and deeply troubled me: A savage violence. We’re fierce about land, love, family, and reputation and all that brings out both the worst and the best in us. Of course in both Irish life and literature, it helps that however dire our circumstances and dark our urges, we know how to have a good time. City of Bohane is also, thankfully, sprinkled with wit, humor and humanity.
This novel won’t be for everyone. City of Bohane is not an easy read and requires work of the reader. There’s a large and colorful–and sometimes confusing–cast, dense dialect and colloquialisms, and visceral violence. Hell, Barry even makes up words throughout, and delightfully so. For me, it is the strange, twisted and beautiful language that makes this novel so compelling. As I read, I felt fortunate to gawp at this wondrous treasure trove of Barry’s creativity and mastery.
I’ve made some grand statements here and could qualify all of the above with ‘in my humble opinion,’ but feck that.