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Borstal Boy

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3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,420 ratings  ·  99 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

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Paperback, 386 pages
Published by Nonpareil Books (first published 1958)
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Jeremy
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
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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
Celine
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
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Nigeyb
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
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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
J.
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
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Spiros
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,
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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.
Stephen
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
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Joseph
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.
Chris
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.
Rosemary
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
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
Jess
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
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Janet
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
Randall
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
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Jenny
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
Argum
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
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
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Emelie
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)
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Jo
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.
Raveka
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
David Todd
Very good read by a very literate Irish rebel. A glimpse into the reform school system in the UK in the 30-40's timeframe.
Erik Carl son
I got into Behan from a The Mountain Goats' song lyric. I came away with an engrossing read to drink whiskey too.
Andrea
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
Allan Boroughs
Brendan Behan's in jail. Er... that's it
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.
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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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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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