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Borstal Boy

3.99  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,596 Ratings  ·  107 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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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtDubliners by James JoyceDracula by Bram StokerThe Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats by W.B. Yeats
Best Irish Literature
76th out of 445 books — 530 voters
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Best Gay Fiction
340th out of 1,360 books — 1,711 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 11, 2016 James rated it liked it
Shelves: auto-biography
Borstal Boy sat for many a year on my to be read bookcase due to its inclusion on the 1001 books one must read before death, a list which has caused me all sorts of grief and happiness. Due to the urgent need to reclaim space I grabbed it for a 8 hour flight, much as one would shuffle up to a particularly healthy kale salad. I presumed it would be good for me but there was little joy.

Having finished it and pondered over it, I am glad i read it but it is an unsettling book. Borstal Boy is an auto
May 08, 2013 Jeremy rated it liked it
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 it was ok  ·  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
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 words, ...more
Oct 19, 2010 Celine rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2015 Nigeyb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book, and far better than I was expecting.

I was inspired to pick up Borstal Boy having come across a reference to it in (the marvellous) Handsome Brute: The Story of a Ladykiller. Neville Heath, a once infamous 1940s British murderer, was incarcerated, before he was convicted of murder, with Brendan Behan at Hollesley Bay borstal in Suffolk.

Brendan Behan was arrested in Liverpool, aged 16, with explosives and the intention of blowing up the Liverpool dock. The first section of the b
Apr 29, 2009 J. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Robbie Leslie
Apr 19, 2013 Robbie Leslie rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 19, 2010 Spiros rated it it was amazing
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,
Deborah Pickstone
An excellent insight into the mind of a young man and his machismo, not matter how long ago - and no matter how bizarre the context! Well-written and often funny, even self-deprecating (intentionally????) this tale is sad and funny at the same time and definitely describes human nature.

Behan was a most delightful writer.
Pete daPixie
Feb 05, 2016 Pete daPixie rated it really liked it
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.
Jia Jung
Mar 14, 2016 Jia Jung rated it it was amazing
Wouldn't have found this but for the Dublin Writers Museum, which had a modest yet compelling display about this Irish Patriot and his writing, both in print and by his own hand in the form of letters to his brother. As if by destiny, I found this one of Behan's books in a shop that same night when I was there visiting last September.

This is a rare glimpse into the 24/7 of a young man who is basically in the Irish version of Juvie for being an active member of the I.R.A. - stranded in Britain a
Jan 05, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing
A picaresque masterpiece. The book Patrick Leigh Fermor might have written if he'd been a teenage IRA bomber packed off to an English reform school in the '40s.

Raised in a prominent Dublin family and well-educated, at age 16 the future Irish playwright Brendan Behan attempted to blow up Liverpool docks as part of an unauthorized mission for the IRA, at the start of World War II in 1939. Behan was arrested and spent time in a rough English jail, then in a borstal for juvenile delinquents. He desc
Autobiographical work about Behan's experience in borstal after he was arrested in Liverpool with explosives preparing for a terrorist attack.

Interesting to see that in 1930s Britain terrorist activities were not regarded with the level of hysteria that now prevails and that he was sent back to Ireland after serving three years in a relatively benign environment.

The book is quite a good read, though overly long. By the time it was 3/4 through, I felt that he had run out of things to say and the
Oct 06, 2008 Joseph rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Really glad I finally took up the book and read it. I watched the movie a few years ago and although I liked it, I like the book much better. It's more in depth and obviously more realistic, with a lot of songs that read like great poems. Sometimes it was a bit difficult to read because of the crossing out of some swearwords, but all in all I really enjoyed it.
Jun 04, 2015 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
Nov 15, 2014 Rosemary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
In 1939, 16-year-old Brendan Behan, a volunteer with the IRA, was arrested in Liverpool for possessing explosives. He says nothing about his intentions and little about his trial, but there'd been some deadly bombs planted in English cities and he was presumably planning to do the same. As he was under 17, the maximum sentence he could be given was 3 years in a Borstal, the name at the time for young offenders' institutions in England, and he tells the story of that time in this book, published ...more
Fug o' Slavia
Apr 05, 2015 Fug o' Slavia rated it it was amazing
It's a story about a guy who thinks the IRA are good but then he goes to jail and has a really good time in jail and then thinks the IRA are not quite as good as he originally thought
Jun 27, 2009 Clodagh rated it it was amazing
A lot more light hearted than I expected. One could learn a lot about diplomacy and getting along with people from Mr. Behan.
Walt Quinn
Sep 12, 2012 Walt Quinn rated it it was amazing
My favorite book from my youth. I loved the dialogue, the ideas, and Brendan Behan.
Garth Mailman
So I've watched the movie multiple times. Reading the book is somewhat spoiled for me and the differences made in the adaptation are immediately apparent. The picture on the cover clearly shows that Shawn Hatosy is far better looking. Whatever ratings the movie is given the book is not G rated.

Remember the it describes prison life. The language is of the lowest form of Cockney/Irish/English dialect laced with enough profanity to make a dockyard stevedore blush. These aren't choir boys. Fully ha
Oct 29, 2015 Jess rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, rated
A raw, powerful, moving, fascinating insight into life as a young Irish revolutionary and juvenile offender in the early years of World War II. A nostalgic story of reassessment and self-discovery.

I read the book after watching the film. I absolutely loved them both and would highly recommend them. They were, however, separate beasts. I would describe them as fraternal twins: from the same place, but very different. If you were to take that further and assign a gender to each, then the book woul
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
Jul 09, 2012 Randall rated it really liked it
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
Sep 01, 2011 Matthew Strenger rated it it was amazing
Shelves: loaned-out
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
Jun 04, 2015 Jenny rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I've decided I hate reading anything about being in prison. It's as tedious reading about it, as it must be living through it. - I loved Behan's writing style, but I was not a fan of this book. Behan did not seem to have any remorse whatsoever, unless I was not reading between the lines, for trying to plant a bomb to kill civilians in England. I have no tolerance for "political" violence and struggled with the fact that he never seemed to directly address what he was in Borstal for. - It was fun ...more
May 13, 2015 Argum rated it it was amazing
Brendan Behan may have been dead these 50 years but this book is like sitting next to him on a barstool telling this slice of his life story. As a teenager, Behan was arrested for his IRA activities and spent some time in custody at various English correctional facilities. He makes friends, he deals with prejudice, he deals with stupid rules. Really nothing happens in this book and yet it was entertaining. Wicked sense of humor and wonderful sense of the man both come through in this story of a ...more
Liam Guilar
Jun 05, 2013 Liam Guilar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 07, 2014 Emelie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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..

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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
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“It's a queer world, God knows, but the best we have to be going on with.” 3 likes
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