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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Kevin Barry - Dark Lies the Island

Dark Lies the Island - Kevin Barry

This is the second book by Kevin Barry that I bought, but it became the first one that I've actually read.
The Gaelic-Nadsatesque reputation of 'City of Bohane' is still too intimidating to win over. Time will tell.

Thus, I decided to give Mr Barry a go starting with a selection of some of his most recent short stories, thanks to a fruitful and affordable harvest along the shelves of the Hay Cinema Bookshop.

Credits first.
There are 13 short stories in 'Dark Lies the Island' and five out of the first six are no short than excellent.

I know some of you don't like those reviewers comparing one novelist to others or making cocktail percentages out of literary influences, but I will annoy you nonetheless; my first impact with Kevin Barry brought to my mind Raymond Carver and - less surprisingly - Roddy Doyle.
Not that I'm the greatest fan of Raymond and Roddy, but to my mind Mr Barry managed to get the best features of both: Carver's straight prose finding beauty in a dull everyday's life and Doyle's sharp sense of humour and Irish cosmopolitan savoir faire.

As a bonus, Kevin Barry showed me that he knows how to draw with a wide palette.
Whereas the opening of 'Across the Rooftops' is poignant and melancholy in its adolescent stillness, the vibrant 'Wifey Redux' is a comic gem which the author quite obviously enjoyed writing.
From what I read here and there, it's the the third short story 'Fjord of Killary' the one that got more praise around (perhaps due to having been published on The New Yorker). Well, I liked this one enough and appreciated its self deprecating irony and cliffhanging mood, but my favourite in the lot lies elsewhere.

After the disappointing interlude of 'A Cruelty' which left me lukewarm and forced me to briefly reconsider my initial awe for Mr Barry, things got bettter again with 'A Beer Trip to Llandudno' the first short story in the collection set out of Ireland and reminiscent to me of certain works by supposedly minor British authors (Magnus Mills? John O'Farrell?).

But it's with 'Ernestine and Kit' the sixth installment of the book that I've finally set my mind up and blessed the 3 quids I spent for the my second hand copy of 'Dark Lies the Island'. What Kevin Barry accomplished with the 12 pages of this short story is a truly amazing miniature of Irish on the road life on a serene Sunday afternoon. And the two affable and gossipy ladies of a certain age who take charge of the plot will twist it in unpredictable ways.

And here pretty much ends my praise.
For the remaining seven stories don't shine. Open up your umbrella, please.

Sure, Mr Barry read his Irvine Welsh and tried to pay his homage to him (see 'The Girls and The Dogs'), but the outcome is disappointing if not clumsy.
The vaguely ambitious 'The Mainland Campaign' fails in delivering a convincing portrait of a self-made romantic teenage bomber (and shows to some extent how Barry's knowledge of what music a post-Goth teenager might listen to is somewhat limited: Sisters of Mercy? Einsturzende Neubauten? Aw, come on! I don't buy this).
Both 'White Hitachi' and 'Wistful England' left me bored and quite puzzled on what actually Barry wanted to express apart from boredom and numbness. The penultimate short story 'Dark Lies the Island' didn't really justify its status as the title track of the whole collection. To be honest, it's not a bad story but then again it left me umoved, untouched and convinced me that Mr Barry had already shot all of his best bullets in the first round.

The oddly titled finale of 'Berlin Arkonaplatz - My Lesbian Summer' looks more like a rielaboration of a hypothetical 20 something Barry's own diary in Berlin (even though it doesn't look like he ever lived there) than like an actual short story. I'm weak and have this tendency to give unconditional love to everything set in Berlin, but Barry's effort is out of focus and the fictional (?) character of post-war refugee, post-raped, post-squatter, post-feminist, post-lesbian, semi-artistic photographer Silvija sounded too unnatural to me.

All things considered, I've no doubt that Kevin Barry is talented, brilliant and even - at times- fucken entertainin' (as he would put it in one of his short stories), but this island lying in the dark should have been more interesting to map had it had a good 80 mil...ehm pages less.