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City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

August 1, 2013

bohane

The IMPAC award is a quite recent addition to the list of literary prizes – it was assigned for the first time in 1996 – but it has rapidly gathered a lot of respect for its international flavor and original choices, not to mention the generous check for the winner (100.000 Euros!), so I have learned to follow its lead and avidly read the novels they select as winners each month of June, but I am far from being persuaded by the value of their 2013 choice, City of Bohane by Kevin Barry.

You don’t need to read many paragraphs of this novel before you realize that mister Barry is a true wordsmith, the beauty of the language, its richness and novelty are undeniable; the author blends English with Irish and he does it in such a masterful way that you don’t need to know any Irish to understand what he is saying, words and references from other European languages make successful appearances too, this is the winning side of the novel, alas the core of the book – the story – is quite feeble, and its briefness doesn’t help – its 270 pages are the result of the most generous layout.

We find ourselves in 2054, in Bohane, a town ruled by a mob led by the Hartnett family, now the former leader of the gang is returning to town after a decades long exile, the menacing atmosphere is augmented by the turmoil caused by a minority part of the gang who wants an open confrontation with Hartnett. While the initial setting seems to be directed into dystopia territory, City of Bohane never gets there, it has a kind of a Western aura and Barry’s use of language in the long term made me think of an influence by David Milch‘s Deadwood, but in the end the characters remain shady and the story sounds pointless.

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