A great Irish writer who had since released another short story collection, Dark Lies The Island. This article appeared in Sin on October 25 2011.
“James Joyce rewritten by the Rubberbandits” is how one blogger described Kevin Barry’s latest novel, City of Bohane. As a Limerickman, he takes this as a compliment of the highest order, and his reading at the Cube on Thursday October 13 as part of the NUI Galway Arts in Action series was wonderfully surreal.
Barry was born in Limerick in 1969, and started life as a journalist and a travel writer, penning surreal portraits of Irish life for the Irish Examiner and others. He also has had a story, Fjord of Killary, published in the New Yorker. In 2007 he left journalism to concentrate on fiction full-time, and his first collection of short-stories, There Are Little Kingdoms, won the Rooney Prize for literature that same year.
“Much of my misspent youth was spent in the immediate vicinity so it’s nice to come back to the scene of all my crimes,” Barry grins before reading extracts of City of Bohane. It’s a dystopian tale of gangs and violence, set in the imaginary city of Bohane sometime in the near future. Bohane is an “amalgam city” of everywhere Barry ever lived, but geographically, it’s based on Porto. The demonic seagulls of Galway and “occult feel” of the Corrib make an appearance too, while it’s impossible not to hear the Limerick accent in the rendition of the gangsters’ speech. “It’s a mad stewpot of all these different places”, Barry says, adding he has denied that Bohane is Limerick ever since the novel came out.
And indeed, given the surprising lack of technology in this futuristic Ireland, the implication that Bohane is in some kind of parallel universe. It’s something that Barry has obviously thought out. “It could be an alternate universe… Their past is not necessarily our present.”
City of Bohane’s language is vivid and evocative, full of startling images. One character has a “mouth of teeth like a vandalised graveyard”. Like Barry’s short stories, it represents the Irish psyche with astonishing accuracy. Barry is fascinated by the way the Irish speak the English language and some of Bohane’s speech patterns would indecipherable to those from outside the West of Ireland.
“English people are getting on fine,” he laughs when questioned from the audience about readers outside Ireland. America is a different prospect, however. “[My agent told me] ‘Forget about Kansas!’”
City of Bohane is currently in the works for a screenplay, and given how the words Barry has put on paper are extremely visual, it’s not surprising that it may become a movie. Meanwhile, Kevin Barry is returning to his “first love”, the short story. A second collection is on the way for next year.