Sunday 17 December 2017

Look away now, Fáilte Ireland . . .

Admirers of Kevin Barry's superb story collection, There Are Little Kingdoms, which won the Rooney Prize in 2007, have been eagerly awaiting publication of his first novel -- and so they'll be glad to learn that Waterstone's, both in Britain and here, think so highly of it that they've included it among 11 debut novels, selected from over 100 publishers' submissions, to be highlighted in their stores this year.

According to advance publicity, City of Bohane, which is due from Jonathan Cape in April, concerns a "once-great city" in the west of Ireland which is now "on its knees, infested by vice and split along tribal lines". Could this be a version of Limerick, where Barry was born, or Sligo, to which he subsequently moved? Or perhaps a large-scale version of Leenane, that picturesque north-Galway village which was the setting for his darkly comic story, Fjord of Killary, which was published last year in The New Yorker.

Wherever it is, it's unlikely to feature in Fáilte Ireland promotions -- we're told that the vice-infested areas of Bohane are "the posh parts of town" with the city's real life occurring in its slums and back streets, where the "dapper godfather" of a gang uneasily reigns.

Don't expect social realism, though. Indeed, Barry's publisher makes it sound like a hallucinatory fusion of James Joyce and Roberto Bolano -- breathlessly informing us that this "unique and visionary" novel blends influences "from film and the graphic novel, from Trojan beats and calypso rhythms, from Celtic myth and legend, from fadó and the sagas" and that the result is "a work of mesmerising imagination and vaulting linguistic invention". And all within a mere 288 pages!

But if it's unfair to judge a book by its cover, it's even less defensible to prejudge it by daft advance claims made on its behalf. Certainly those of us who've marvelled at Barry's mastery of the short form will be hoping he's equally assured over the length of a novel.

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