Sunday, June 23, 2013

City of Bohane: A review

City of Bohane, Kevin Barry's first novel and recently the winner of a big Irish literary prize,  is urban fantasy without the fantastic, post-apocalyptic without the apocalypse, science fiction without the science, medieval without the Middle Ages, Blade Runner with blades—lots and lots of deadly blades, called here shkelps.

The book, in outline about nostalgia, gang warfare, romance, a wandering native's return, and lots and lots of really bitchin' clothes, may remind you of James Ellroy or A Clockwork Orange or West Side Story or Irish myths or even, in its occasional repetition of a phrase or odd paragraph division, Ken Bruen. Its language is high-energy, dialect-filled, and it would not shock me if Barry sneaked a made-up word or two into the novel's litany of Irish slang.

Add Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest to a list of possible antecedents to this book, only a Red Harvest in which the Continental Op gave up and went home, instead of letting Poisonville's gangs wipe each other out.

But the novel's real appeal is to the senses, with its fetid streets, chill air, lashing wind, and flickering camp fires.  This is not, in other words, like most novels or any novel you're likely to have read recently, whether your preferred reading is crime, fantasy, or literary. I wonder what Barry will do for a follow-up.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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7 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

Well, if I understand you, the novel is notable for its singularity, but you avoid either recommendation or renunciation. Moreover, what I gather is the novel is full of style, but you say little about its substance. Am I in error?

June 23, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Change "renunciation" to "rejection," which results in a minor but useful difference. Blame the change on my fickle self-editing obsession. The essence of my implied and explicit questions remains.

June 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, one does not always know what to say about a wholly original experience.

Having said that, my reticence is due partly to modesty (I hesitate to claim originality for the novel, lest some commenter reveal obvious parallels and sources), partly to residual wariness of writing so heavy on style, and partly to a possible quibble with the story.

In re style, I'm still a bit stunned that a novel so heavy on style could hold my attention for 276 pages. I have to let this novel sink in awhile, that is.

June 23, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I was intrigued to read it from your review, in any case. Now if I could just figure out if I have a copy here or not.

June 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The book reminds me of China Mieville more than it does of anything else I've read.

If it's any help to your figuring out if you have a copy, the current U.S. edition of the book was released earlier this month, though the novel's initial publication year was 2011. (Whether an American edition appeared that year, I don't know.) On the other hand, it received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award just this month.

When looking just now for publication information about the novel, I found this, on a popular online user-generated source of information:

"An obvious influence is the novel Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: another somewhat futuristic yet low-technology, homicidal-hipster world with speech characterized by an invented lingo. Barry acknowledges the debt in his `On Writing of City of Bohane' appended to the novel, also crediting Cormac McCarthy."

June 23, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

The question is whether I have an arc of it here somewhere, which doesn't narrow it down quite so much.

June 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think we both could use a GPS for books.

June 24, 2013  

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