One A Scale Of “One To Ulysses”…

I don’t normally write actual reviews of books I’m reading here, primarily because I’m not a book reviewer (there are exceptions!) but every now and then you come across something that you feel the need to press into the hands of others.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I made it in just under the bandwagonwire – I started reading Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane a couple of weeks before it recently won the IMPAC 🙂

After that I’m not really quite sure what to tell you about it as I feel with this book in particular it’s best not to know too much before you go in. Just imagine a story set in a fictional Irish city on the west coast somewhere in the future that feels more like the past, just not really our past…. Sort of.

It’s part Scarface, part western, part Clockwork Orange, part Flann O’Brien, part steampunk, part Watchmen, part Joyce…. No, I don’t want to go down the road of trying to box it off.

The language in almost every place is dazzling, some of which is American gangster, some hiberno-Irish, some simply made up yet perfectly understandable to anyone with an ear from our part of the world. It’s violent, vivid, painted, unforgettable, and, if you have the stomach for it, a book you have to read. Have. Even if Kevin Barry never writes another novel (and I sincerely hope he does), he has this to stand on dine out on for the rest of his days.

Mostly it made me never want to attempt to write another word again as long as I live, because nothing I ever write would be as good as this.

Genuinely, the only question about the book is whether in 30 years we’ll look back on it as one of the greatest Irish novels ever written. Do drop me a comment at that stage and let me know if I was right…


4 thoughts on “One A Scale Of “One To Ulysses”…

  1. Hi Rick,
    I’m conflicted. On first reading I, too, was blown away by the language, the panache, the style of the thing. He’s such a fresh, exciting writer. I was primed to love it by his excellent short stories. But, on second reading, it struck me that there’s little or no character development. Fine in a short story, less interesting in a novel.
    The writing is stellar, the picture he paints of the city is vivid and lurid and fun, but it plays out much as I suspected it would about a quarter of the way in.
    I’m trying to review it myself, but am trying to work out what’s there under the style.

  2. That’s the thing, Rich. For me, with this story, if you layered in huge amounts of character development it’d almost be too much. I see the simplicity as an attraction in this particular case…

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