‘Beatlebone’ by Kevin Barry (2015) – 299 pages
‘Beatlebone’ is a novel about John Lennon of the Beatles. Lennon had bought a small deserted island called Dorinish off the far northwestern coast of Ireland in 1967, and ‘Beatlebone’ is about his unlikely visit to the island in 1978.
John Lennon was surely the edgiest one of the Beatles and the easiest one for people to dislike. He was the original leader and created the Beatles and was one of the group’s main singers. He wrote many of the great Beatles songs including ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘Help’, ‘All You Need is Love’, ‘Ticket to Ride’, and all the way up to their last recorded song ‘Come Together’. After the Beatles broke up, he wrote ‘Imagine’ and ‘Instant Karma (We All Shine On)’ among many others. During that solo time Lennon lived in the United States, and the FBI monitored him the entire time he lived there.
Lennon was also the most emotionally fragile of the Beatles. He frequently came across as droll and sarcastic. In 1978 Lennon had not recorded an album for three years. He was finally off the really hard drugs, and he believed if he could spend some time alone on his island, he could get to a place where he could write music again.
Kevin Barry understands the difficulty of writing about Lennon.
“He is quite nasal and often defensive. There is a haughtiness that can be almost princely, but his moods are capricious – sometimes he is very charming and funny and light; at other times there is a darkness evident, and an impatience that can bleed almost into bitterness. He can transition from fluffy to spiky very quickly, even within the course of the same sentence. Often during these interviews he was accompanied by Yoko Ono, who very clearly, from this distance, was the tethering fix in his life; lacking her presence, you get the feeling that he might have unspooled altogether.”
One thing Barry accomplishes in ‘Beatlebone’ is that he does get Lennon’s voice right. However ‘Beatlebone’ did not work for me well as a novel. Whereas Barry’s ‘City of Bohane’ was an Irish lyrical imaginary tour de force and I was dazzled by his stories in ‘Dark Lies the Island’, ‘Beatlebone’ did not seem well enough grounded to earth for it to be a compelling read for me. My interest in the novel tended to float away.
And what about Lennon’s island of Dorinish?
“John (Lennon): Turns out the thought of it is the thing, Charlie. The reality is slippery rocks and freezing fucking sea and creamy fucking gull shit. Not to mention the banshee fucking wind.”
I read a review written before he was murdered of John Lennon’s last album ‘Double Fantasy’. In it Lennon’s songs are praised as nice tunes, but Lennon made the unfortunate mistake of alternating his songs with poor ones by Yoko Ono which dragged the whole album down.