March 13, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Irvine Welsh called Kevin Barry's City of Bohane "the best novel to come out of Ireland since Ulysses." Filled with brilliant dialogue and clever wordplay, this dark and violent book is one of the year's most impressive debut novels.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"Barry's addictive dialect and faultless confidence make this volatile novel a rare treat."
I live in a swamp, essentially. My house is a former police station, built in the 1840s, and it has bars still on the windows. It looks over the reed fields and the flood plain that lead to a bleak, silver-grey lake. There is a weird irridescence from the lake waters, a kind of haze, and sometimes in this vicinity an odd sense of time having come loose: the past is unfixed, the future is already done for, and I believe that there is no present, for if I try to put my finger on it, I find that it's … gone … gone … gone …
My study looks out towards the lake. Most days, I stand, forlornly but not unromantically, and I stare into the strange haze. It rains here 292 days of the average year, but most years seem to be wetter than the average. This is an area of south county Sligo we are talking about, in the Bricklieve mountains, in the interior north west of Ireland.
Ireland, for the blissfully uninitiated, is a middling-sized and tormented rock that is perched unpleasantly on the verge of the haunted waters of the Atlantic. How the wind howls, and how the rains do fall. But weather apart, little happens here that is of any interest whatsoever. It is among the dreariest places of the earth. And, as such, it possesses the ideal conditions for the creation of a race of fabulists – if you didn't make stuff up, you'd go nuts.
The area around my lake – which is called Lough Arrow – has the highest number of reported UFO sightings in all of Europe. Most of the reported sightings tended to come from the same lady. She passed away last year, into the starry firmament, and the reported sightings have significantly dropped off. But I stand at the window of my study and I watch the skies hopefully – an alien trespass would at least be a break from the boredom.
This is the place, and these are the conditions, that led to the writing of the novel City of Bohane.
Bohane is an imagined Irish city of the 2050s. Well, I say imagined … It is a small, demented, murderous, vicious, beautiful, malevolent, wind-raked and very sexy place. Our future here is a retrograde one, with no technology to speak of. Homicidal gangs of rampant teenage skanks and sluts battle for control of the city's vice and narco trades, and they practice knife tricks, and they trade fashion tips. It is all as restrained, quiet, and thoughtful as it sounds. The people of Bohane speak a hipster creole, or patois, the sources of which can readily be found in the actual talk of small, demented Irish cities. And they dance a lot, and sexily, at times of festivity, or of mourning, which, in Bohane, are extremely frequent.
But what do they listen to?
Mostly what I was listening to myself in the fevered months (I have no wish to sound melodramic) that it took to write the book. So … lots of Trojan Records dub reggae collections from the 1970s … lots of calypso, as the weather has strangely picked up in 2050s Ireland … lots of old spiritual numbers, because they are a nostalgic and past-haunted people in the city of Bohane. And I should also point out that, for no rational reason I might offer here, there are buried references in the novel to a great number of pop hits of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. If any reader spots them ALL, they will win a free trip to my swamp. Where they will be stared at eerily. And possibly molested.
Particular tracks I might mention?
I would list the likes of Mighty Sparrow's 'Big Bamboo' (no ambiguity there), Johnny Clarke's 'None Shall Escape The Judgement', Nina Simone's version of 'Baltimore' and the wonderful Waterson Carty band's take on 'Stars In My Crown'. I would also mention, for their inspiration, and atmosphere, and feel, The Pogues 'A Pair Of Brown Eyes', Dexy's Midnight Runner's 'Knowledge of Beauty' and Donna Summer's 'State of Independence'.
I would urge you to find all of these on your search engine of choice – at once! – for the taste of a threatened future.
Kevin Barry and City of Bohane links:
Daily Scotsman review
Irish Independent review
Irish Times review
Kirkus Reviews review
Mark O'Connell review
Philadelphia City Paper review
Publishers Weekly review
also at Largehearted Boy:
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