Pete Hamill on Kevin Barry's City of Bohane
A good review that's a joy to read can leave one a tad leery of reading the book for fear that it might suffer by comparison, but Pete Hamill, in "Auld Times" (NYT, March 29, 2012), has nearly persuaded me to take a chance anyway on Kevin Barry's City of Bohane:
"City of Bohane," the extraordinary first novel by the Irish writer Kevin Barry, is full of marvels. They are all literary marvels, of course: marvels of language, invention, surprise. Savage brutality is here, but so is laughter. And humanity. And the abiding ache of tragedy.Hamill quotes Barry's novel for a line from the narrator's description of one of the main male characters:
Mouth of teeth on him like a vandalized graveyard but we all have our crosses.What a great line! Perfection! Especially with that cross image, so characteristic of graveyards and resonant of crucifixion, a hint of tragedy . . . involving a woman, of course. Another central character, also a man, is looking for her, too, returning in his quest a quarter-century after their love, and Hamill introduces Barry's line about that here:
This prodigal son knows where he is. One sentence sets up most of the rest of the novel: "He looked for her in every woman he passed, in every girl."I think it was Robert Musil in his Man Without Qualities who said that every man seeks his first love in all other women, heaping tragedy upon tragedy in a longing search for what is forever past. Or maybe I said that. But should I read this novel? Hamill thinks so:
Reading this novel, with all of its violence, I also felt a kind of joy exuding from its author. The joy of finding, and sustaining, a voice. The joy of being surprised by his own inventions. I suspect that any reader, including the Irish, will sense that joy. It's about freedom. A warning: the freedom includes the use of much language usually described as "bad." But we have not read this book before. It is not a rehash, not assembled from a kit. In its hurtling prose, we understand again that the bad can be beautiful too.I'm tempted to order the book just to find out in what way "much language" is "bad" -- graceless, profane, politically incorrect, or . . . ? Whatever that might be, I highly recommend Hamill's entire review, not bad in any way!