karen's Reviews > City of Bohane

City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
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's review
Apr 11, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: girls-gone-wild, distant-lands, thank-you-bea-or-ala
Read from April 11 to 12, 2012

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 place in ireland, but some future-ireland that is unlike the ireland i love, in fiction anyway. and it is in dialect. sort of. not the pitch-perfect dialogue of tana french's Faithful Place, which made me feel wonderful, but an invented dialect, complete with burgess-esque slang and cadence that is very jarring.

i mean, you tell me:

a pack of wannabe Fancy boys - fourteenish, hormonal, all bumfluff 'taches and suicide eyes, with the wantaway croak of bravado in their breaking voices - traced the hipsway of the rhythm outside the calypso joint, drew circles in the air with the winkled tips of their patent booties, passed along a coochie - eight of 'em drawin' on it - and they kept watch - so shyly - on the Cafe Aliados down the way

you see??

the Gant's humours were in a rum condition - he was about fit for a bleed of leeches. his moods were too swift on the turn. he was watchful of them. he had a sack of tawny wine on him. he untwisted its cap and took a pull on it for the spurt of life - medicinal. there was pikey blood in the Gant, of course - the name, even, was an old pikey handle- but then there's pikey blood in most of us around this city. have a sconce at the old gaatch of us - the slope-shouldered carry, the belligerence of the stride, the smoky hazel of our eyes; officer material we are not. of course if you were going by the reckoning of pikey bones the Gant was old bones now for certain. he was fifty years to paradise.

and usually that would give me fits.

but after a while, you kind of get into it. and even though the book expects much from its readership - understanding a ton of clans, geography, inbred feuds, unfamiliar expressions - i thought it was a great read.

but it is a bludgeoning one.

it's strange - stripped of its vernacular, the book can be reduced to two sentences: people fight. a marriage is tested.

that is it, honestly. but it isn't simply emptiness masked by linguistic cleverness.

the world-building is phenomenal. it reminded me, a little, of both Aurorarama and The Gone-Away World, but i thought it was much more successful than either. once you get into the rhythm of it, it is incredibly rich and satisfying, and with the other two, i had a lot of difficulty making sense of the world, but in this one, i felt more grounded.

but there were some strange decisions. why so much focus on the clothing? i swear, there was so much of this, and always in this format:

ol' boy wore:

high-top boots expensively clicker'd with gold taps, a pair of hip-hugging jodhpur-style pants in a faded mauve tone, an amount of gold chains, a heave mink coat to keep out the worst of the hardwind's assaults and a goatskin beanie hat set pavee-style at the crown of his head.

it's a weird quirk in an already-quirky book. it definitely provides a strong mental image, but the whole name-followed-by-colon setup made me unhappy.

but there is a character named fucker burke and one named wolfie stanners, so that's obviously awesome.

fucker wore:

silver high-top boots, drainpipe strides in a natty-boy mottle, a low-slung dirk belt and a three-quarter jacket of saffron-dyed sheepskin. he was tall and straggly as an invasive weed. he was astonishingly sentimental, and as violent again. his belligerent green eyes were strange flowers indeed. he was seventeen years of age and he read magical significance into occurrences of the number nine. he had ambition deep inside but could hardly even name it. his true love: an unpredictable Alsatian bitch name of Angelina.

and when i read that, i thought, "maybe that is just this-book-slang for "german." but - nope. an actual dog.


so, yeah. i liked this. a lot. but i do not know what anyone besides me will make of it.

read it and tell me, why don't you?
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 53) (53 new)

message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason first reads?

karen no, i never win those. i had to borrow it from work like a peasant.

but i entered to win the next batch, just because i love rejection...

message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason I'm glad I'm not the only one. I won 2 in a row about a year ago, and since then I've been like 0 for 40,000. Roughly.

karen yup same here - i haven't won for yeeeeears. but i still enter them. why??

message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason Why do some animals eat their young? It's all just part of our fucked up psychological profile, I suppose.

message 6: by Jason (new)

Jason At this point, I think it's more probable that I will eat my young than ever win another firstreads contest. Karen, I look forward to your review of this!

karen so far it is great!

message 8: by David (new)

David Michael Reynolds, they know you are the kiss-of-death for book sales.

message 9: by Jason (new)

Jason Instead of the Colbert bump, the Reynolds abscess.

zxvasdf The clothes are important. It's how the Fancy wrested control from the big unit. Fads, underrated tools of an overthrow. You see it reflected in the Fancy's usurper, a new age of skinsuits tight like they're sprayed on. The dirks of girls in jackboots cut just as sharp as those of effe fobs, if not sharper.

message 11: by Greg (new)

Greg I'll let you know what I think of it, I'm planning on borrowing it when I get back.

message 12: by karen (last edited Apr 14, 2012 04:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

karen sure, i understand the significance of clothing-as-identity/affiliation and all that. it is more the "so-and-so wore:" announcement of it that i was questioning. particularly with macu, who is pretty much defined by what she is wearing, and what other people think of her. she is one of those great characters who doesn't actually get to do much in the book.

message 13: by Deana (new) - added it

Deana Sounds really interesting! Might have to try to pick it up one of these days.

zxvasdf I gotcha. Probably to justify to his mother as to why he was looking through these fashion glossies half his childhood.

Well there might be a sequel in the works... I thought it was funny that Kevin Barry named a square after himself on the map but makes no mention of it in the novel. Clever. A bit of self indulgence, but not too much as to seem too narcissistic.

karen i know! i noticed that, too!

also glad to know about the sequel! thank you!

zxvasdf Last one, I swear. I get excited about these things. It's been optioned for a movie, and the author himself is penning the script.

The City of Bohane's one of these works that would translate really well to the big screen. I just hope they won't treat it like a summer blockbuster, fill it with big names and gratuitous action shots. I loved how Barry didn't reveal the big fight, but instead chose to reveal it post-mortem, in the darkroom calm. It's one of the little quirks I hope will make it to the final cut, if the movie's ever made.

karen that was my favorite scene of all, actually.

feel free to get excited all over my thread!

message 18: by Elle (new)

Elle couldn't help but read those quotes in a proper irish accent. failll!

message 19: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan I loved his story collection There are Little Kingdoms, and he recently won the Sunday Times National Short Story award with a beautiful story about real ale drinkers on a trip to Llandudno, so I think I'll give this a go..

karen i don't think we can get his first book into the store, but i am going to try tomorrow.

message 21: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan is that because of the obscure publisher (Stinging Fly) or it's out of print or something?
btw Karen, putting on your reader's advisory cap, do you think I will like it (City of Bohane)? Cuz I'm not too sure, sounds a departure from the stories which are warm and funny, well sort of drink sodden and... then again it does sound like this book, just with sci-fi elements thrown in.

karen i am pretty sure i checked to see if he had other books i could order in, and there weren't, but i might have just meant to, and gotten swamped in the suck that was last week.

i genuinely don' know if you will like it. i don't even know if greg will like it, and he's my best friend. this book definitely has humor. but i wouldn't call it "warm" humor. there are moments of warm human emotion, but i don't think that is the salient feature.

this book defeats any skills i might have.

message 23: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan OK, I will reserve it though. He has another book of stories coming out too, according to GR, 'Dark Lies the Island' - looking forward to that. 'Warm' might be the wrong word, but something like it..
there are a lot of chancers and adventurers and no-hopers in the collection too

karen no-hopers are my bread and butter...

karen yup - not available in my country.

message 26: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan if you want to read it I can send, but I know your aversion to short stories..

karen haahhah, my "aversion." you have seen how far i have come! i would hate to put you out any - i can probably find a copy lying around somewhere...thank you!

message 28: by TL (new)

TL Great review Karen :)

karen thanks!

message 30: by TL (new)

TL karen wrote: "thanks!"

your welcome :)

message 31: by Bud (new) - added it

Bud Mallar I don't know if I'll like it, but I added it to a maybe list. After all, if it's recommended by Karen.....

message 32: by Jason (new)

Jason She has been known to get it right once or twice.

karen jason, why don't you go flip a raft or something?

message 34: by Jason (new)

Jason Been there, done that.

karen worst scoutmaster ever.

message 36: by Jason (new)

Jason That's the idea! To be so bad that they'll have to fire me and get someone else to do it!

Oh, you know what? I think it's high time to plan a rock climbing trip.

karen can't you just slip pot in the cookies and get fired without endangering your offspring?

message 38: by Jason (new)

Jason This is why you would be my perfect assistant cubmaster.

karen yes. me in the wilderness with loud children and sharp knives. best plan ever.

message 40: by Jason (new)

Jason At least it would be over quick.

karen is there a merit badge for that?

message 42: by Greg (new)

Greg I think you might be able to fudge your way into a Wilderness Survival merit badge

karen what even IS that?

message 44: by Jason (new)

Jason We are already swimming in patches. We should get something more...unique...for offing a bunch of cub scouts.

Like jail time.

karen it's cute that you think there's a "we" in this. i was planning on walking outta that forest alone.

message 46: by Jason (new)

Jason Ooooooh, you cold, girl!

karen this isn't some hunger games bullshit. we are going to pare it down to just one. i assumed it would be me, but maybe you'll surprise me.

message 48: by Jason (new)

Jason I can be resourceful. You best watch yerself!

karen i am wearing adult diapers right now, so i won't even need to pause to poo while kicking your ass

message 50: by Jason (new)

Jason While I admit that might give you an advantageous edge, I happen to know how to annoy people to death, so...I don't think even YOU would be able to withstand my powers.

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