“City of Bohane” by Kevin Barry (2013) – 277 pages
“Many a yella moon had shone on the glorifiied pig’s mickey that is the Bohane peninsula since we had seen the likes of an eight-family mobbed descent off the Northside Rises.”
I’m sure if I ever referred to the city of Bohane as a ‘glorified pig’s mickey’, the families of both gangs in the Bohane dispute would rise up, unite, and at least see to it I got reefed. But that’s what I love about the story, its willingness to bad mouth its own town, its own people. Whereas most of the people in the world are beaming with civic hometown pride, these are smart enough to figure out that there’s a lot of bad stuff going on right here, right now.
If you decide to read “City of Bohane”, and I heartily recommend you do read it, do yourself a favor. The argot of “City of Bohane” is an Irish lyrical miracle. Once you are in the rhythmic spirit of the language, you will be entranced. One thing I would suggest. Once you have read the first chapter which is nine pages, go back and read it again. The language here is so unique from anything I had encountered before, it was necessary for me to re-read to fully appreciate it. After that I could delight in each sentence of this wonderful novel.
The year is 2053 Placing the story in the future, Kevin Barry was not limited by the constraints of realism. He could let his imagination soar, and that it does. Bohane is a fantastical city in western Ireland. I’m sure the real cities there are reputable places, but Bohane is a dark decadent city subject to all out gang warfare between the families of the Northside Rises and the families of the Bohane Back Trace. Logan Hartnett, the Long Fella from the Back Trace, rules the Hartnett Fancy who has owned Bohane for the last twenty years. But the Northside Rises scuts are threatening to rise up. And the Gant Broderick, the man Hartnett defeated twenty years ago and whose girlfriend Macu he stole, is back in town. Then there are the strange tribes of Pikeys who live out in the dunes.
“No argument: it is a thin enough layer of civilization we have laid over us out in Bohane.”
There are a lot of knifings. Guys get ‘reefed’ or schkelped’ often in Bohane. There are a lot of other things to disapprove of going on. There’s a lot of talk of hoors, sluts, and tushies. Nearly all the people of Bohane are either drunk, high on weed, or both most of the time. One of the main characters is named Fucker Burke. The whole story is told in such a magical way, the reader lets it all pass since it’s not real anyway.
Kevin Barry takes a special interest in the clothes his characters are wearing. Here is one example.
Black patent high tops, tight bleached denims, with a matcher of a waistcoat, a high dirk belt, and a navy Crombie with a black velvet collar. Wolfie was low-sized, compact, ginger, and he thrumbed with dense energies. He had a blackbird’s poppy–eyed stare, thyroidal, and if his brow was no more than an inch deep, it was packed with an alley rat’s cunning. He was seventeen, also, and betrayed, sometimes by odd sentiments under moonlight. He wanted to own entirely the city of Bohane. His all-new all-true love: Miss Jenni Ching of the Hartnett Fancy and the Ho Pee Ching Oh-Kay Koffee Shoppe.
The last time I encountered language so musical Irish was in “At Swim Two-Birds” by Flann O’Brien. It is this original voice that makes “City of Bohane” a special tall tale. My best take on this novel is that it is a twisted cross between “At Swim Two-Birds” and “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. These two novels are classics; “City of Bohane” makes three. Most of the novels written during the past few years will disappear with time, but I expect “City of Bohane” will last and last.