T.R.'s Reviews > City of Bohane

City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
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's review
Jul 29, 12

it was amazing
Read in July, 2012

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 slang, the syntax, the imagery are stunning. Within the first two pages: "There was an evenness to his footfall, a slow calm rhythm of leather on stone... Mouth of teeth on him like a vandalised graveyard but we all have our crosses. It was a pair of hand-stitched Portuguese boots that slap his footfall, and the stress that fell, the emphasis, was money." Listen to this dialogue as two folks in the Hartnett Fancy gang talk about some possible trouble: "Cusacks gonna sulk up a welt o' vengeance by 'n' by and if yer askin' me, like? A rake o' them tossers bullin' down off the Rises is the las' thing Smoketown need." I'll stop writing already. Go read the book.

OK, I do want to say something else. The Irish don't have sole proprietorship on nostalgia. Talk to any local in my neighborhood and within in 10 minutes you'll be talking about what the folks in the City of Bohane call the "lost times." You'll be talking about what shop was where, how much a burrito used to cost, and where the best places were for music. For the Irish of Bohane though, the lost times were invariable violent. And the violence gave them a gravity. Yet the violence was rarely remembered for the honesty of loss and was looked forward to mark the passing of time. "y'sure 'bout that, H? 'nother winter a blood in Bohane, like? "Ah sure it'll make the long old nights fly past."

The fatalism is felt deep in Bohane. "Whatever's wrong with us is coming in off the river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city's air is a taint off that river." Barry's book is set in the future, but the ideas have a deeper history in Irish literature and culture. And if Barry's plot structure is any indication, things won't be changing much.

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