Kevin Barry – My Top New Discovery of 2013

‘Dark Lies the Island’, stories by Kevin Barry   (2013) – 185 pages


Each year brings its new discoveries for me in the land of fiction.  Discoveries are writers whom I have never read before and really like.  A discovery is not necessarily a young writer.  This year John Milton (born in 1608), Alfred Hayes (born in 1911), Lore Segal (born in 1928), and Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born in 1940) were all new discoveries for me.  Also some of the discoveries are the writers of today.  The new discoveries this year included Ben Fountain, Rachel Kushner, Daniel Woodrell, Herman Koch, Suzanne Rindell, Rahul Bhattacharya, Anthony Marra, Deborah Levy, and Laura Restrepo.  All in the list had books that I thoroughly enjoyed.  These are the writers I will return to in future years.

However my best new discovery for 2013 has to be Irish writer Kevin Barry.  I was dazzled by the unique language and outrageous tale in “City of Bohane” and his book of stories, “Dark Lies the Island”, is another sure winner and a great introduction to this important writer. 

Here is a writer that captivates at the sentence level.   What I mean is that there is a certain joie de vivre that comes through in every one of his sentences that makes them exciting to read.  Just reading Kevin Barry line by line provokes merriment in me.

 My want for her was intense and long-standing – three months, at least; an eternity – and I was close enough to see the opaque down of her bare arms, each strand curling like a comma at its tip, and the tiny scratched flecks of dark against the hazel of her eyes.  She was just a stretch and a clasp away. – Kevin Barry in the story ‘Across the Rooftops’

 Kevin Barry is an Irish writer.  There is a mysterious musicality in some Irish writers that I have long appreciated.  I most especially noticed this Irish melodic quality with Flann O’Brien in his novel ‘At Swim-Two-Birds’.  The writing of Kevin Barry reminds me of Flann O’Brien.

 ‘It’s end-of-the-fucking-world stuff out there,’ I said.

The chorus of locals in the hotel’s lounge bar as always ignored me.  I was a fretful blow-in, by their mark, and simply not cut out for tough, gnarly, west of Ireland living.  They were listening, instead, to John Murphy, our alcoholic funeral director.

“I’ll bury anything that fuckin’ moves,” He said.

“Bastards, suicides, tinkers,” he said.

“I couldn’t give a fuckin’ monkey’s,” he said.

Mweelrea is the most depressing mountain you’ve ever seen, and its gaunt, looming shape filled almost every view from the Water’s Edge Hotel, the lounge bar’s included.  The locals drank mostly Bushmills whiskey and Guinness stout, and they drank them to great excess.   I wiped their slops from the counter with a bar cloth I had come to hate with a passion that verged on the insane.  I said ‘But seriously one motherfucker of a high tide, no?’  –  Kevin Barry in the story ‘Fjord of Killary’ 

Kevin Barry Barry has described himself as “a raving egomaniac”, one of those “monstrous creatures who are composed 99 per cent of sheer, unadulterated ego”.  I’m tempted to say, deservedly so.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I’m very tempted by his City of Bohane at the moment. That first paragraph, it’s just exciting to read. Sheer bloody verve.



  2. Hi Max,
    That’s right, sheer verve. It is a crime story, told from the perpetrators’ point of view rather than the law enforcement side.



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