‘Beatlebone’ by Kevin Barry – John Lennon in Western Ireland

‘Beatlebone’ by Kevin Barry  (2015) – 299 pages



151102_BOOKS_BEATLEBONE-cover.jpg.CROP.article250-medium‘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.

Dorinish Island in Ireland

Dorinish Island in Ireland

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.


Grade: B          



4 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting to encounter your guarded review. I have read so many rapturous reviews and for some reason I just can’t get excited about the concept. Think I will go for City of Bohane instead, I haven’t read it yet but have meant to for some time.



    • Hi roughghosts,
      Kevin Barry was pretty new when ‘City of Bohane’ came out, and it didn’t get the praise it deserved. So they are compensating by over-praising ‘Beatlebone’. ‘City of Bohane’ is a futuristic novel that takes place in 2053, and it uses its own form of the Irish language which dazzled me. Barry is an impressive writer, but I believe Beatlebone is a misstep.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. City of Bohane is excellent. I’ve reviewed it myself (it’s been widely reviewed so that’s one of very very many), and I really rather liked it. The use of language is the thing there as Tony rightly says.

    This, eh, it’s been highly recommended to me and I probably will read it, but I’m fearful my reaction and yours Tony will be very similar. Hopefully not, but it doesn’t entice.



    • Hi Max,
      I more than rather enjoyed City of Bohane. For me it expanded the possibilities of what great fiction could do. When a novel has that effect on me, it is very difficult for what follows to live up to it, although I did read Barry’s book of stories ‘Dark Lies the Island’ afterwards, and that was really fine too.



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