Kevin Barry


1969- ; b. Limerick; ed. Cork; has lived in Santa Barbara, Barcelona, and Liverpool; issued Little Kingdoms (2007), winner of Rooney Prize for Irish Literature; a first novel, City of Bohane (2011), was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award and won the Authors’ Club First Novel Award, 2012; also Dark Lies the Island (2012), a story-collection; has lived in Cork, Santa Barbara, Barcelona, Liverpool lives in a renovated RIC barracks in Sligo;

Barry has spoken to the Creative Writing students at TCD’s Oscar Wilde Centre; he was an invited reader at the Festival International Book Festival in 2012; City of Bohane has been optioned for film, and an author’s script is in progress; winner of Sunday Times/ EFG Private Bank Short Story Award (£30K) over Emma Donoghue and other short-listeds with “Beer Trip to Llandudno”, March 2012; Beatlebone, a novel, due from Canongate (October 2015); he travels annually to Spain.

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The City of Bohane (London: Jonathan Cape 2011; rep. Vintage 2012), 277pp.; Dark Lies the Island: Stories (London: Jonathan Cape 2012), 185pp.

Miscellaneous, contrib. to Dublin Review [extract copied in The Irish Times, 3 Dec. 2012]; num. reviews incl. The Dirty Dust, being Alan Titley’s translation of Cré na Cille by Máirtín Ó Cadhain in English trans., in The Guardian (15 April 2015) - as infra.

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Scarlett Thomas, review of City of Bohane, in The Guardian (14 May 2011), [see extract]; [Q.auth.], review of City of Bohane, in The Independent [Ireland] (26 March 2011) [see extract]; Pete Hamill, ‘Auld Times’, review of City of Bohane, in The New York Times (29 March 2012), Sunday Book Review - online [incls. photo-port. by Hugh O’Conor]; Alison Flood, ‘Kevin Barry [...] wins Sunday Times Short Story Award’, in The Guardian (30 March 2012) - [online]; Chris Power, review of Dark Lies the Island, in The Guardian 27 April 2012) [see extract].

See also Paperback Q&A with Kevin Barry on City of Bohane, in The Guardian (27 March 2012) [online].

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Scarlett Thomas, review of City of Bohane, in The Guardian (14 May 2011): ‘The year is 2053 and we are in the west of Ireland. The Hartnett Fancy controls most of what’s worth controlling in the City of Bohane, from the labyrinthine Back Trace to Smoketown. (”Smoketown was hoors, herb, fetish parlours, grog pits, needle alleys, dream salons and Chinese restaurants.”) [...] The main action starts when news reaches Logan that one of the Cusack family from the Northside Rises has been “reefed” in Smoketown. As Jenni puts it: “Cusacks gonna sulk up a welt o’ vengeance by ’n’ by and if yer askin’ me, like? A rake o’ them tossers bullin’ down off the Rises is the las’ thing Smoketown need.” [...] Barry’s vernacular, like his plot, is a wonderful blend of past, present and imagined future. He doesn’t overdo it. His characters all have different voices, and his free indirect style changes as it moves across the city. Sometimes the words are doing backflips and spinning on their heads. [...] At one point, we’re hearing from Eyes Cusack that “Me brud’s gone loolah on accoun’ and his missus gobbin’ hoss trankillisers like they’s penny fuckin’ sweets, y’check me?” Then we’re back in the semi-mythical Big Nothin’, where “Solstice broke and sent its pale light across the Big Nothin’ bogs. A half-woken stoat peeped scaredly from its lair in a drystone wall and a skinny old doe stood alert and watchful on a limestone outcrop.” That Barry has control over all these registers, and makes them his own, is quite astonishing. This debut marks him out as a writer of great promise.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or attached.)

Hanif Kureishi said: ‘[Barry had performed] a deft bit of alchemy [by] taking a very ordinary group of amateur ale connoisseurs and transforming them and their not instantly appealing tastes into something sweet, funny and unexpectedly moving. [He] with a sensitivity that never transgresses into sentimentality, a beautifully constructed piece of writing that says something fresh about how men find comfort, support and humour in each other’s company. This is an astonishing story that is both daringly original and full of heart.’ (Verdict of the Sunday Times Short Story Award, quoted in The Guardian report, 30 March 2012 - online.)

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Q.auth., review of City of Bohane, in The Independent [Ireland] (26 March 2011): ‘[T]hough there are echoes of Patrick McCabe at his most fantastical and also of the darkly imagined cities of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, it’s the aura of the comic book that prevails, with nothing ultimately for real and thus nothing at stake and therefore little for the reader to genuinely care about. [...] the action might just as well be set in an imagined Scotland or Wales or wherever. [...] There are other oddities, notably a first-person narrator who makes his presence felt every so often, but so glancingly that you wonder what he’s doing there, and by the end his function, if he has one, remains unclear. [...] Barry has a remarkable talent, as is evident from his short stories, but a novel requires particular qualities - a satisfying structure, a mastery of the long, developing narrative and complex characters of psychological and emotional depth - that aren’t essential, or sometimes even required, in the shorter form. On this showing, the author has yet to command these qualities.’ (See full text online; accessed 12.11.2012).

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Chris Power, review of Dark Lies the Island, in The Guardian (27 April 2012): ‘The Irish writer Kevin Barry’s best short stories are like a spade to the face. Whether describing emergencies in which instinct shoulders aside intellect (a beleaguered hotelier facing floodwaters; a drug dealer imprisoned by highly sexed pagans) or charting quieter moments of loss (a bungled kiss at the fag-end of a party; the thwarted emotions of a group of real ale enthusiasts) there is a vividness to his writing that plants you immediately at its heart. [...] “Beer Trip to Llandudno”, conversely, has scant plot but carries plenty of meaning. It describes a Liverpudlian Real Ale Club’s day-trip to Wales, and mines it not only for laugh-aloud comedy but a rich empathy, also. Moving nimbly from discussion of the “manky arse” endemic to the inveterate beer drinker to a more universal mournfulness at the things we scramble after and often lose in the course of a life, Barry earns comparison with the great and shamefully neglected VS Pritchett, whose short stories also employed pronounced comic means for serious, compassionate ends.’ (See full text online; accessed 23.11.2012). Note: title-story and other stories cited include title-story, “Atlantic City”, “Animal Needs”, “Fjord of Killary” and “The Mainland Campaign” - the last-named of which is adversely compared with William Trevor’s story of a bomber in London.

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City of Bohane (2012): ‘The Gant took a slick of sweat off his brow with the back of a big hand. He had a pair of hands on him the size of Belfast sinks. The sweat was after coming out on him sudden. It was hot on the El train – its elderly heaters juddered like halfwits beneath the slat benches – and the flush of heat brought to him a change of feeling, also; the Gant was in a fever spell this season. The tang of stolen youth seeped up in his throat with the rasping burn of nausea and on the El train in yellow light the Gant trembled. But the familiar streets rushed past as the El train charged, and the pain of memory without warning gave way to joy – he was back! – and the Gant beamed then ecstatically as he sucked at the clammy air, and listened to the hoors.’ (Quoted in T. Mazzara, ‘A Rasp in the Air’, notice of City of Bohane, in Open Letter Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review, Nov. 2012 - online.)

See The Irish Times (4 April 2011) - on City of Bohane: Kevin Barry says the name came to him in a dream: that he jumped out of his slumbers and declared that the city he was writing about was called Bohane. He began sketching the place out while on holidays in Porto. “I hate vacationing,” he says in a mock Yank accent. “I dunno, I just get cranky and restless.” So he used the Portuguese city as a model for his West of Ireland ramshackle hellhole populated with murderous lovelorn thugs; with a dandified godfather named Logan Hartnett and Girly, his 90-year-old mother [...].

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Bravura: reviewing Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart (2012), Eileen Battersby incidentally calls Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane a ‘bravura comedy’ and ‘a poignant love story, adding that ‘he [Ryan] never match[es] Barry’s anarchic lyricism - which draws such wonderful effect from his jaunty prose, with its at times quasi-Elizabethan syntax, echoing Anthony Burgess’s similar flourishes in A Clockwork Orange (1962), though his ‘more conventional use of language, from the formal to the profance, sustains his novel of inner thoughts.’

High ol’ times: In 1994 (aetat. 25), Barry was living in rented attic accommodation with friends chez Nancy Spain at French Quay, Cork, and working ‘fitfully, at a very stoned level’ as freelance reviewer for the Irish Times, and otherwise tuning in to early internet - as narrated in “The Skin of Anxiety”, in Dublin Review (Winter 2012) - reprinted as extract in The Irish Times, Weekend Review (3 Dec. 2012):

‘The connection hissed more loudly and sputtered hard, and we held our breaths as the great network that we knew was out there tried to snag its digital hooks on the virgin nodes of Cork city, but it failed, and the room went silent, and we turned off the computer and got on with our lives.
  Which, in 1994, largely involved slithering bug-eyed around the walls of Sir Henry’s nightclub until the small hours, sleeping till mid-afternoon, and then trying to lure passing college girls into the house with promises of free dope, playtime with a cute black rabbit called Fluppsie we had bought in a pet store on North Main Street, and (we lied) access to “the Web”.
 I was 25 years old and at this time operating fitfully, and at a very stoned level, as a freelance reviewer, writing up notices of gigs and plays for music magazines and newspapers. I would bash out my judgments on a Singer electric typewriter perched on a wardrobe laid on its side to function as a desk. Sentences of Faulknerian complexity would be employed to tear strips off a Frank and Walters show at Nancy Blake’s, or the latest Corcadorca offering at the Triskel.
 The Singer, quite snazzily, had an eraser function. I would go to a stationery store off Washington Street to replace the white-out ribbon; Tipp-Ex was history, and the eraser was essential for the obsessive redrafting of my killer intros. I recall a sub-editor at The Irish Times asking whether a notice on some Corkonian indie act at the Phoenix Bar really merited an opening sentence that came in at something like 136 words.
 I would carry the typed pages as though they were tablets of stone across the river from French’s Quay, past the hoppy belching of the Beamish plant, to what was then Jury’s Hotel, on Western Road, where the receptionist would fax them through to Dublin for a pound the first page and 50p thereafter.[...]’.

Confesses to being a smartphone Luddite after 18 years on internet addiction: ‘I have had an iPhone for almost a year and have downloaded no apps. A little flush of triumph comes to my cheek if I manage to email someone a photo, or paste a link into the body of a mail – this, after 18 years of internet activity, is the level of it. I have never looked at porn on the internet, not having the need, as my mind already projects terrifying sequences of phantasmagorical sex images at all conscious hours of day and night. I have never played games online, or arranged dates, or (yet) sought to locate dogging venues in the vicinity of the south county Sligo swamplands. I have lately bought turf online, but I do very little of the stuff you’re supposed to do.’

[ Note: At the time of completing the present piece, he is in Athens with friends who have no internet connection and finds after some days that he can kick the addiction. In autumn 2003, he was in Edinburgh with his girlfriend, who was completing her PhD - to which city he returns bi-annually. Travels annually to Spain to get out of Ireland. [Note: follow-up comments include one from “Falcologist’ remarking: ‘You’ve got your Nancies mixed up, Kevin. Nancy Blake’s is in Limerick. You’re thinking of Nancy Spain’s. Nice piece though!’ See online; accessed 06.12.2012. ]