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City of Bohane

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,108 Ratings  ·  371 Reviews
* Shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Book Award in the First Novel category *

A blazingly original, wildly stylish, and pulpy debut novel

"City of Bohane, the extraordinary first novel by the Irish writer Kevin Barry, is full of marvels. They are all literary marvels, of course: marvels of language, invention, surprise. Savage brutality is here, but so is laughter. And humanity.
ebook, 288 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Graywolf Press (first published March 31st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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i do not know if you will like this book.

usually, i am pretty good with the readers' advisory thing - i have this innate sense that automatically provides me with a list of names of people i think would appreciate the book, even if i didn't like it myself. call it a gift.

but this one - i am genuinely at a loss. i know that i liked it, but i also know that i am a little bit damaged from having read it. like my brain has been mooshed a little and i have had a hard time readjusting.

so it takes pla
Sep 05, 2015 GoldGato rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A place should never for too long go against its nature.

Bohane. Mid-21st century after some un-named calamity which has affected Ireland and, apparently, Britain also. Perhaps the rest of the world? That is one of the conceits of this sci-fi steampunk something novel, the first by the wonderful Kevin Barry. Bohane is a wicked city...think San Francisco of Barbary Coast fame in the 19th century. Everyone has a game, an angle to play and safety and security are part of the Lost-Time.

There are no i
Dec 29, 2012 Bennet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bennet by: Vheissu
Shelves: novels-stories
The language dazzled and taunted and tempted till the end, but I can't call the story or the ending satisfying. For all the detailing, much was not developed that could have been, and without a lot more effort, which, it seems to me, would have made this a better story.

It's a new book, just out this year, but I don't feel like explaining what it's about and will just insert the book blurb for those who are curious but don't want to refer back to it: Thirty or so years in the future. The once-gre
Rob Kitchin
Kevin Barry is well known for his short stories. He has a vivid imagination and is an excellent wordsmith, crafting some lovely, expressive prose. City of Bohane has received high praise from some of Ireland’s literary stars such as Roddy Doyle, Joseph O’Connor and Hugo Hamilton. I therefore had high expectations for Barry’s first novel. With the exception of the prose and some of the characterisation, for me, it failed to deliver. For the most part, the characters are difficult to identify with ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Unusual and memorable bog-soaked poetry of a small Irish city filled with whores, gamblers, criminals, lonely hearts, and every other kind of down-and-outer. It's a city where whoever schemes the best lives the longest, and you can't trust anyone. It's a city that breaks people.

Like drinking whiskey on a wintery day in a room with no heat, no light, and two-inch gapes between each wooden wall plank, Barry's book will shake you. It's a silent, desperate bellowing yellow to the moon. And it's also
Ethel Rohan
Dec 14, 2011 Ethel Rohan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kevin Barry is a genius. He is doing with his life and his gift exactly what he was put on this earth to do and continues the long and great line of Irish writers. His debut novel City of Bohane is an original and remarkable work of inventiveness.

Set in the fictional and futuristic city of Bohane, somewhere in the West of Ireland in 2053, this is a dark and harrowing tale that is at turns horrific and stunning. For all the memorable and well-dressed characters, gripping plot twists, and brillian
Oct 06, 2011 Casey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I love this book so far. The language in both the dialogue and the narration is fantastic. It just pops.
And there's a lot of really meaty subject matter going on- Revenge, love, growing old, legacies... Awesome.

Also, I promise that my endorsement of this book is not affected by the fact that Graywolf is publishing the US edition in March 2012. Honest. This book is straight legit. I am, however, super excited that we're going to be publishing the US edition in March 2012.


The end of th
Feb 14, 2012 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Profane, cinematic, hilarious, elegiac, brutal, poetic, original. I found City of Bohane to be all these things and more. The language is amazing. It took me a chapter or two to adjust to the vernacular Kevin Barry's characters employ, but it was well worth the effort. (You can view the author reading from the book at

At the center of the story is the struggle between rival gangs for control of the Irish city of Bohane, but there are also several fascinating subplots i
Oct 01, 2011 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I picked up City of Bohane expecting a book of gang warfare, of violent dystopian action perhaps in the expected mode of such stories (think Gangs of New York) in which events build to an brutal, climactic showdown. But City of Bohane isn't that book, it's far more than that, and reducing it "just" bloody violence would be a shame.

Though there is plenty of violence, and more often the threat of it, that's not the point. Those scenes are often deemphasized when they arrive, overshadowed by the lo
Owen Curtsinger
May 15, 2012 Owen Curtsinger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While reading this book I was reminded of what it's like to read William Gibson's Neuromancer for the first time. At first it's a little unclear what the meat of the story is, but if you just hang on and let the rhythm and cadence of the prose take you for a ride, you will find yourself in a new and fascinating place. And what a place; Bohane is a weird and wild mash-up of Jamaican shanty-towns, Soviet tenements, and Little Italy and Chinatown. It's true that the plot and characters are lacking ...more
May 19, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sure it's another dystopian novel, but Barry mines the Celtic archetypes to create a truly original visionary work of genius and linguistic brilliance. What is it about Irish writers that transforms English prose into poetry? The neologisms, the dialect, the beautiful rhythms of a well-wrought line, the poetry of the everyday, the evocation of a place long gone in a future that will never be but might have been. Though the lives described are bleak, the descriptions themselves are beautiful. Joy ...more
Ian Young
Mar 09, 2013 Ian Young rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Tricky the paths a long love might follow, like the spiral down twists of a raindrop on a windowpane.” Kevin Barry's first novel is underpinned by the story of such a love, but distinguished by its swagger and vitality.

The City of Bohane is somewhere in the West of Ireland in the distant future, an Ireland that is real yet warped and seen through a dirty and distorted lens. The language of the book reflects the vision of the City – it too is bent and twisted, mixed with partly real, partly imag
May 09, 2013 Zoeytron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
What a tasty feast this was! I suspect this book will either be devoured with great relish or it will have you demanding to be excused from the table - pronto. Be prepared for something different from almost any other book you might pick up to read. A fresh idea, what a novelty!

As the story opens, the city 'had taken to the winter like an old dog to its blanket'. Bohane is over-run with street gangs. The reader will need to hang tough with the street jargon and just roll with it. Context is kin
Tom Heavey
On my first attempt to read COB I was initially impressed by the poetic prose. Three chapters later I realised the majority sentences are simply lifted directly from local dialect with little artistic input. I laid the book down: returning recently after the IMPAC award hoping to uncover the error in my ways.

My discomfort with the borrowed patois remained as it pervaded, adding little substance; although those unfamiliar with the Limerick dialect may gain value from its novelty. Where Barry's s
Nov 29, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stupendous. A broken, tainted, nostalgic West-of-Ireland city thrashing and smoldering as it remembers the 'lost-time', Bohane is tribal, brutal, fashion-conscious (velveteen puffa jackets and vinyl brothel-creepers), sentimental, full of heart and completely heartless. The language is pure energy, the characters are vivid and real and the story is timeless. It seems that when it all breaks down, we will be mediaeval once again, writhing, dreaming and plotting in a real human society, face to fa ...more
Apr 12, 2012 zxvasdf rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Bohane, a city on the Irish coast fed by a sick black river, is crime ridden. But... how can we call it crime if it is just a way of life? When everyone is actively engaged in a monstrous caricature of humanity, the dark manifesting in feints of genteel respectability? It's hard to see what value the Bohanites hold upon anything other than irrepressible self indulgence. Smoke and drink and carnality, amongst others is just parts in a day. People are people, they say, but the people of Bohane hav ...more
Jul 13, 2012 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The NY Times review was laudatory for this debut novel praising it for its originality and beauty of language. After reading it, I could not agree more. Kevin Barry belongs in a top row of authors who use the language as if it were an instrument. The shimmering prose dances across the page in rhythmic pirouettes brightening everything it touches. Imagine Mad Max with its strange characters and unique dress in a futuristic time in a ravaged, deranged city in Ireland.
I've often thought of people l
Apr 17, 2012 Trina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
As I said in my recent review for ForeWord Magazine, this novel reminded me of the West Side Story, with the Jets and the Sharks replaced by rival gangs from the bogs and gorsey wilds of western Ireland. It's set in the futuristic 2054, but could just as easily be 1954 given the fluidity of time and the nostalgia for long ago when Gant had the running of the Back Trace, a labyrinth of streets filled with grog shops, noodle joints, fetish parlours, needle alleys, dream salons, and power haunts. B ...more
Linda Anne Smith
This is a book that you will either love or hate. I did both!!!
I read the first 2 chapters and really struggled with them, both in terms of the language (very broad Irish dialect and patois) and also just trying to find something - character or story - to start building the reading experience from. To be honest, if it wasn't for the fact that i "had to" read it for Book Club, I would not have persevered with this book. So I started again, and re-read the beginning, and kept going second-time ar
Matthew Geyer
Jul 07, 2012 Matthew Geyer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kevin Barry is going to be somebody. That's what I thought when I read his apocalyptic short story in The New Yorker, Fjord of Killary, a year or two ago. This sent me searching the web, where I found his previous short story collection, There Are Little Kingdoms, available from a small Irish literary press by way of an independent overseas bookseller. Kevin Barry already is somebody, I thought when I read those tales: He's an heir to William Trevor, like Banville and Toibin. But this one's ten ...more
Jul 29, 2012 T.R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a high school teacher, I'm taking a summer class on on teaching reading and we reviewed a list of the 'pleasures of reading.' And the first two had to do with the pleasure associated with knowing the correspondences between letters and sounds and the pleasure of the sounds themselves as you read aloud. Barry's novel, for all it's atmosphere and impact in the literary circles, reminds me of those first two pleasures. Barry is mostly known as a short story writer, and it shows. On each page the ...more
May 07, 2012 katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At first I loved it. The language, the dialogue is amazing, and really new, as in not like anything I have read before. I did find fault with the story line, the twist seemed ridiculous. So the plot couldn't carry the good language, because for me the language even got tired, because it did not evolve, and the weak plot left it stagnant. The stereotypes, the misogyny, the bad mouthing all just started to feel vacuous.
The author, clearly, has a gifted ear for sound and language. But he isn't ver
Apr 15, 2012 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up City of Bohane in a flea market for 2 - an absolute STEAL considering how much I enjoyed it.

It's a tricky read to begin with, Barry wastes no time plunging you into his richly imagined Bohane and I sometimes struggled to understand the odd dialect of the cities natives. However, I persevered and I was soon hooked - I devoured the book over the course of a long weekend in Wales, and I heavily recommend setting aside a day or two just to read it all in one go - it requires that degree
Apr 10, 2012 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I ate this book ravenously, despite my ongoing [fruitless] effort to go slowly, so I could linger with the delicious sentences. It was an utter delight, from beginning to end, and even though I know I missed so much of the subtlety because I know no Irish slang, it made me laugh and wince and flinch and feel the longing. I just finished it and am starting it again, right now.

I wish I could write a more sophisticated review, identify flaws and weaknesses, but I can't. I loved everything about thi
I got 100 pages in and had to give up - not something I usually do, especially with a novel that wasn't poorly written. Perhaps it was the language or that I had no idea what time period it was set in. Upon reading some reviews apparently it's set in a kind of steam-punk future? How did I not like this story? I love novels with convoluted or unique language, I love novels set in the post-apocalypse, I like novels that are gritty and dark. I had no problem with Ulysses. But, for some reason, I fo ...more
James Eckman
Oct 14, 2015 James Eckman rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I made another stab at finishing this book and failed. Between the unlikable characters,the strange language, the long continuous gang fight and unreal background I found nothing that would hold my interest. A somewhat failed attempt at a first novel, or maybe it's just literature.
Daniel Polansky
One of these books that you start and immediately know you're going to love, one of those books where you go, 'right, this is why I spend all of my time and most of my money reading.' What genre writing could be if we were all smarter than we are. Written in this bizarre but understandable future slang, the story of an imaginary city in a post-collapse era on the West Coast of Ireland and the criminal gangs which feud there. Violent, nostalgic, lovely, sad, beautiful, I just loved this book. You ...more
Paul Fulcher
City of Bohane, Kevin Barry's debut novel, won the prestigious international Impac prize in 2013, one of the my favourite literary prizes as one of the few that treats translated fiction on a par with English language originals ( And his 2nd novel, Beatlebone has been shortlisted for the equally excellent Goldsmiths Prize.

So I came to this book with high expectations, albeit tempered by the detail of the Impac nomination which states that the novel "ble
Feb 15, 2014 Nina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was really unlike anything I've ever read. A fictional city with a bad reputation, run by gangs of various sorts, in what seems like the middle of nowhere (Big Nothin'). The "governing" Authority tries to keep the peace to the extent necessary to get a tram (from the Nation Beyond) to run to Bohane, but the police (polis) literally turn away from crime between/amongst Bohanians as its happening. The language challenged me until I grew accustomed to it, and then I felt like I knew some sort ...more

I disliked this book, but I disliked it with interest and engagement, which ought to count for a second star. This arguably deserves a few *more* stars even, but Goodreads' rating system asks me whether or not *I* liked a book, so that's what I use.

I appreciated the world Barry builds, even as I was conscious of how much I disliked reading about that near-future-dystopian, inexplicably-technology-limited, fashion-obsessed world. The feeling from that world has stayed with me after finishing
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Irish Readers: Nomination 1 13 Nov 25, 2013 09:39AM  
Irish Readers: Quarterly Irish Reads Suggestion March 2012 1 25 Feb 10, 2012 05:40AM  
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  • Winterwood
  • The Thing About December
  • The China Factory
  • Mistaken
  • Almost Never
  • Solace
  • That They May Face The Rising Sun
  • On Canaan's Side
  • The Gamal
  • From the Mouth of the Whale
  • The Dewey Decimal System
  • Gods Without Men
  • The Meeting Point
  • Strumpet City
  • Birchwood
  • On an Irish Island
  • Walk the Blue Fields: Stories
Kevin Barry is an Irish writer. He is the author of two collections of short stories, and the novel City of Bohane, which was the winner of the 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
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“Tricky the paths a long love might follow, like the spiral down twists of a raindrop on a windowpane.” 5 likes
“One might trouble one's dainty snout with a whiff of the taleggio displayed in an artisanal cheese shop, or take a saucer of jasmine tea and a knuckle of fennel-scented snuff at a counter of buffed Big Nothing granite. But there was a want in these ladies yet, and it was for the rude life of youth.” 3 likes
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