Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Barry’

“That Old Country Music” by Kevin Barry – Amusing and Poignant Irish Stories


That Old Country Music”, stories, by Kevin Barry (2021) – 191 pages


It is still March and still Reading Ireland Month (barely), so here is Kevin Barry. In ‘That Old Country Music’, he writes stories about the Irish people as we have always heard them to be and as I expect they really are.

There are certain writers who just happen to be virtuosos of the short story. Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Taylor, John Cheever, William Trevor, Alice Munro, George Saunders, etc. When you read a collection of their stories, you know that nearly every one of those stories is going to move you in some way. I believe it is now time to add Kevin Barry to this list.

In the humorous story ‘Who’s-Dead McCarthy’, the main character is always the first to tell everyone about the ones who have recently died. No matter where we are from, I’m sure most of us have known a guy who is all too willing and pleased to report the misfortunes of someone else to those who are around him.

He shook his head with a blend that spoke curiously of tragic fate and happy awe.”

As is often the case in short story collections, my favorite story is the first one, ‘The Coast of Leitrim’. Seamus Ferris has fallen hard for a Polish girl, Katherine Zeilinski, who works in the cafe down in Carrick. However when she falls for him and they become a couple, he is tormented by his own happiness.

Seamus Ferris could bear a lot. In fact already in his life he had borne plenty. He could handle just about anything, he felt, shy of a happy outcome.”

Lines like this show an acute awareness which puts you on this writer’s side no matter where he decides to take the story.

He had refused happiness when it was presented to him in the haughty form that he had always craved.”

Of course Kevin Barry is a strong novelist as well. He is a writer who recognizes that life isn’t always or often straight lines. Even though I have no Irish ancestors and have never been to Ireland, I could relate to every one of the stories in this collection. It helps that most are amusing as well as poignant.

The bottom line is that in capturing Irish human nature, Kevin Barry captures our human nature, wherever we are from.


Grade:   A



‘Night Boat to Tangier’ by Kevin Barry – A Funny Sad Elegy for Two Aging Irish Criminals.


‘Night Boat to Tangier’ by Kevin Barry   (2019) – 255 pages

‘Night Boat to Tangier’ is the story of two fading Irish gangsters, best friends, in their early fifties, Maurice and Charlie. Charlie has a severe limp; Maurice has lost one of his eyes. Maurice and Charlie started dealing dope in high school.

Money accrued; ambition was fed. Dope brought girls and money. There was langour by day and violence in the night.”

Since then, they had devoted their entire adult life to smuggling drugs. They have made huge amounts of money at times, nearly all of which has somehow flown away, mostly on bad investments and illegal drugs for their own personal use.

They are at the waiting room of the ferry terminal in Algeciras on the southern coast of Spain expecting Maurice’s 23 year old daughter Dilly to show up. Dilly left Ireland three years ago and has not returned, but Maurice has heard rumors that she might be coming in on the ferry from Tangier today. Early on they encounter a dreadlocked young guy Ben who looks like he might know Dilly, so Maurice and Charlie manhandle him to find out more of Dilly:

I don’t know if you’re getting the sense of this yet, Ben. But you’re dealing with truly dreadful fucken men here.”

As they wait, Maurice and Charlie talk about the old days. Scenes from the past are juxtaposed with scenes of the two waiting, and we readers get nearly their entire life story.

‘Night Boat to Tangier’ doesn’t glorify these hardened Irish criminals but it surely humanizes them. What we are dealing with here is a novel in the Loveable Irish Criminal genre times two. Many of us readers have been here a thousand and one times before.

Of course at times Maurice gets soppy sentimental about his daughter Dilly even though he was not around most of the time when she was growing up.

Twenty years ago I was so sick of cuteness in Irish fiction that I made it a point to avoid it at all costs. However Kevin Barry is so good at Irish cute that I can’t resist.

The scenes in this novel are supremely constructed. There is one brazen incident from the past when Maurice confronts Charlie in a bar. Kevin Barry heightens the menace of this cofrontation by having it told by the bar owner who wishes to maintain order in his bar at all costs.

The scenes are highly climactic and cinematic. I believe there is a strong possiblility that ‘Night Boat to Tangier’ will be turned into a movie, something along the lines of ‘In Bruges’ starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

Along the way in ‘Night Boat to Tangier’, Maurice and Charlie give us the “Seven True Distractions in Life” which I think are quite good. The “Seven True Distractions in Life” are want-of-death, lust, love, sentimentality, grief, pain, and avarice.


Grade:    A



‘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          


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: