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Borstal Boy

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  1,216 ratings  ·  87 reviews
Brendan Behan was an Irish playwright and novelist, as well as a youthful revolutionary. In 1939, at age 16, he was arrested in Liverpool with a suitcase full of high explosives.

BORSTAL BOY is the autobiographical record of Behan's experiences from that day through his imprisonment, trial, remand to reform school and final release. Schools for delinquents in England are c

Paperback, 386 pages
Published by Nonpareil Books (first published 1958)
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Community Reviews

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Behan has an engaging style and plays around with such things as phonetic spelling in an interesting and creative way for genuine impact. The narrative flow is sometimes strangely truncated and other times heavily languid, which is where it loses star-value for me... Yes, this kind of approach marries up well with the very conversational mode Brendan Behan is operating in, but it leaves me with the feeling sometimes that I'm missing out on key elements of the story. I mean, if he was in front of...more
K.D. Absolutely
Jun 13, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 100 Must Read Books for Men; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 to 2008 editions)
Shelves: 1001-core, guy-lit
England, 1939-1942. Brendan "Paddy" Behan is convicted of murder: he detonated an explosive that killed at least 4 people. Since he is 16 y/o at the time of the crime, he now stays in an institution called a Borstal which is a type of youth prison in the United Kingdom, run by the Prison Service and intended to reform seriously delinquent young people ages below 17.

Think Prisonbreak but with almost no escapees and definitely no rape, sodomy, gang wars and drugs. In Borstal Boy, there are just f...more
Lisa Kay
★★★★✩ What better book to read on St. Patrick’s Day than Borstal Boy, by Brendan Behan? Niall Tóibín, Irish comedian and actor, narrates this one that is semi-autobiographical story of the author. After committing murder via an IRA bomb, a 16 year old boy is locked-up in three English detention institutions during WWII. However, Mr. Tóibín's accent (depending on the dialect he is doing) is so thick, I had to play back parts, though I did get used to it. Still, wonderful dialogue, jokes, slang wo...more
Warm, human, literate and intelligent. A terrific reading experience.

( just to note : I was amused to read a review in which the reader lamented the lack of sodomy and violence. Were they reading the same book I did? Or is it that subtlety is lost on them? Was also a bit shocked to hear it described as 'boring' Perhaps folk's appetites have been so dulled by misery porn that they can't cope with more than a straight forward catalogue of horrors. Shame that, because it means the nuances and layer...more
Robbie Leslie
I was given a copy of this wonderful book by an Australian I met when travelling in Europe in 1990. The copy was an early sixties Pan edition - its spine was broken, the pages were dog-eared and stained and it had fallen into three pieces. My Australian fellow-traveller had had it passed to him by a similar stranger. On giving it to me he made the proviso that I too must pass it on once I'd read it. I passed it on to a friend in England and I know that he passed it on to someone else. I don't im...more
Period piece that's a less disturbing read than its reputation would predict. Young loose cannon Behan of the IRA gets caught redhanded in England, and learns the system -- and the country that founded it- via its correctional institutions. Banned in Ireland as obscene, this took a while getting published and still managed to upset applecarts in the fifties.

Though tame for contemporary readers, this is the Cooks Tour of the world 'inside', circa early forties, in the north of England. Oddly enou...more
Oct 19, 2010 Spiros rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who appreciate human beings
In 1939 sixteen year old IRA man Brendan Behan was arrested holding explosives which he was going to use to blow up the Liverpool docks, to strike a blow for Ireland against its age long imperial oppressor. Held on remand at Walton Prison, he was ex-communicated and suffered the occasional beating from the "screws". Sentenced to serve time in England's Borstal system for young prisoners, he was thrown in amongst the dregs of the British Empire, and found them to be splendid fellows.

"John Howard,...more
Pete daPixie
Brendan tells his story of a childhood in Ireland to his involvement with the I.R.A. and his arrest and incarceration in the U.K.
A great tale of a heavy life, with heavy drinking and flying fists the size of melons.
This book was hard at times with the cockney rhyming slang. But it was well worth it, because Behan changes from an idealistic IRA initiate to someone who realizes that it is impossible to live for an ideal. Borstal Boy is a good read for anyone who is conflicted about the disjunction between ideals and reality.

In the end, as Behan would put it, it all comes down to people.
Shane Macgowan said this was the best book; well, it's one of them, I suppose. If you like the idea of English, Gaelic, church Latin, old lyrics, and Irish and English slang of many colors all coming together in one long, frank, credible, and humane tale of lock-up in three English detention institutions during WWII, this is your book.
Jan 14, 2009 Janet added it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
The novel was published in 1958, and covers the period when Behan was in prison in England. He got out of Borstal (juvenile detention) in 1941 at the age of 18. The surprising thing is that he portrays the Borstal as rather pleasant, though maybe that's just because you see the prisons first, and it's a relief to get outside. He was at a Borstal where the boys worked a farm. There was plenty to eat, you got outside, you could read all you liked in the library in the evening, and there were no wa...more
Hilarious book. The humor and general good nature of the lil IRA boy surprised me, and I thought it would be a depressing read, but it was the opposite. Letting go of his hatred of the English and yet maintaining his own republican beliefs, Paddy grows into quite a young man. I'd like to reread his biography and get to the dramas just to get a fuller picture, because I forgot most of what I knew about Behan other than his sad end. And reading Borstal Boy made me proud of how he got through it al...more
Matthew Strenger
Absolutely fantastic story. An autobiography written from the point of view of a 16-year-old IRA terrorist in the British prison system during World War II. Behan writes very conversationally- he only slightly censors himself on swearing, but persists in the more colorful examples of foul vocabulary, as well as Cockney Rhyming Slang.
In all, his storytelling is endearing and entertaining to say the least. Behan portrays himself as a proud Irishman, and a proud member of the IRA, but very well-edu...more
Liam Guilar
As the saying goes "Sure the truth's irrelevant if the story's good."
Beautifully written, Indignant, passionate, funny, humane and starring an engaging character called Brendan Behan who develops as the book unfolds. part of the books attraction is that Behan doesn't big note himself and isn't above making fun of himself or admitting his own doubts and fears. At times the story drags as conversations and days are related in detail, but he's a fine story teller, the model is verbal rather literar...more
Kirsty Anne Frearson
I loved the camaraderie in the book. Behan really displayed the relationships between the "screws" and borstal boys as well as the hierarchy among the borstals. However I felt the end was rushed, skipping too quickly from when Charlie left to Brendan's own release.
1.5 stars
It was boring and I was forced to read it, so there's that. It's just... it took more than half the book before it even got slightly interesting and yeah, I can appreciate that this was an influencial book and all, but hell was it boring. NOTHING HAPPENED. He got a book about the IRA and stuff in the ward-thingy he was in, which looked like it would be important to the story but nope, they never mentioned it again..

(view spoiler)...more
Parts of this book were difficult due to the dialect, slang and Celtic phrases. However, you can get most of it. It is a really interesting period piece (1940's) with more humor than I expected.
I felt like I enjoyed the first half of the book a lot more than I enjoyed the second half of the book. The first half of the book felt a lot more coherent, and I could understand what was going on better than the second half of the book. The second half of the book, it felt as though you had to pay attention to each and every sentence, and that was quite hard when Behan's English is different than mine. I also found myself comparing this book to the movie, and when certain plot points didn't co...more
Brendan is a character who truly becomes your friend. From the beginning, when his landlady is shouting up the stairs that "O God, oh Jesus, oh Sacred Heart, Boy there's two gentlemen here to see you," you know you've met a unique character. Though the plot (ok, or lack thereof) didn't exactly keep me flipping pages furiously, I looked forward to this book every night the way you look forward to an easy conversation with your best friend at the end of the day. It was rejuvenating and calming to...more
Philip Lane
Interesting subject matter but I found difficulty in reading it for a couple of reasons. The first difficulty was with the language which is very much a realistic reproduction of the language of the teenagers in borstal in the mid 20th century much of which I am unfamiliar with. My second issue is with the monotony of the story - being a realistic account of his time in borstal of course I imagine it was quite monotonous and banal but that does not make for a great read. Certainly of interest an...more
Suzy Firkin
I read this book as part of The Guardian's Banned Books series. It was a fascinating read that gave a window into another world and challenged prejudices about politically motivated terrorism and it's perpetrators. At times the book is a romp akin to Five Go To Borstal at others a sobering view of young lives going to waste.
Fantastic. The best Irish novel, I think. Behan has a turn of phrase that can be hilarious. Such a shame this was his only novel. The last couple of lines took my breath away.
Ethar Mahmoud
Mar 04, 2014 Ethar Mahmoud marked it as to-read
صبي الاصلاحية
Great book. Not overwritten, full of great characters and the author's brilliant aphorisms and internal-monologue-putdowns. The plot meandered and all but it was never dead, which kept the pages turning nicely. For a book by an author I'd never heard of it's miraculous to be so good. Behan throws off his shackles and everything, but uses the metaphor very well beyond the literal, entertaining meaning of the story.

Also great old songs, jokes, and various slang...
Ron Davidson
A fascinating story of Brendan Behan's time in the young offenders' prison system in England for IRA activities. It was an interesting adventure to follow his time in confinement and his relationships with his fellow prisoners and jailers. But the most enjoyable adventure for me was in the language of the story -- learning British and Irish slang and dialect, and appreciating the author's mastery of language.
Sep 06, 2007 Annie added it
Recommends it for: Natalie
This is a surprisingly funny autobiography of a teenage IRA member who ends up briefly in prison, then a juvenile institution. Behan's voice reminds me of Jonathan Lethem in Motherless Brooklyn - self-deprecating, funny, and endearingly upbeat despite his unfortunate circumstances.

For now, I'm shelving it. Saving it for a day when I feel like reading chapter after chapter of one man's prison bathroom habits.
Behan somehow manages to combine the prison memoir with one of his adolescence and feelings of alienation of being a foreigner abroad (an IRA man in a British prison, no less). I thought the first half of the book, while he's awaiting adjudication before seing sent to a proper Borstal, was more compelling than the first, but it's well worth the read all the way around.
Gave me a lot of nostalgic moments remembering my Dad - not that he was a borstal boy, but being London Irish, and of similar vintage, the language and some of the attitudes were familiar.

Seemed a pretty honest and unbiased account of a prison experience. A little bit of history on the "Irish question". Now I want to read some of Behan's other stuff.
Aug 01, 2011 Ian added it
An account of Brendan Behan's three years in a Borstal institution. I thought I may struggle with this given his IRA background, but it is so well written, and so engaging it its own way that I was able to put this to one side, and just enjoy the account. He followed this up with "Confessions of an Irish Rebel," which I will now read as well.
Ryan Mooney
DNF. I read exactly half of this landmark of Irish literature and it took me three weeks to do so. This could partially be due to a persistent lack of concentration, but I found it dry and repetitive. I realize an abusive life in a juvenile penitentiary must have been punishing and monotonous, but at least give me some more paragraph breaks!
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Brendan Francis Behan (Irish: Breandán Ó Beacháin) (9 February 1923 – 20 March 1964) was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who wrote in both Irish and English. He was also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.

Behan was born in the inner city of Dublin on 9 February 1923 into an educated working class family. He lived in a house on Russell Stree...more
More about Brendan Behan...
Confessions of an Irish Rebel The Complete Plays: The Hostage / The Quare Fellow / Richard's Cork Leg The Quare Fellow The Hostage Brendan Behan's New York

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