It’s hard to dislike Kevin Barry though, believe me, I’ve tried. He’s an annoyingly-good writer. He’s successful. He’s won lucrative prizes. Each of these reasons would be sufficient on its own to hate Kevin Barry, but what makes him even more irritating is his complete lack of arrogance. He laughs at himself, he scoffs at his own eejitness, he freely acknowledges the random, arbitrary, serendipitous nature of his creative process.
If this man had any decency, he’d at least dress like a literary clown, talk through his nose and patronise us with random quotes from German philosophers we’ve never heard of, but he doesn’t. Instead of saying praxis and zeitgeist, he tells us about writing as work. About discipline. About tearing up blank sheets of paper. He tells us about getting it wrong more often than getting it right. Along the way, he tells us about his tragic adolescence as a red-haired Goth, his brief and sordid career as a dodgy impresario and his general approach to life as a man surrounded by a bubble, much like the notorious reality distortion field of Steve Jobs, but with a lot more bewilderment.
This man doesn’t take himself seriously.
How do I know this?
He said, I don’t take myself seriously.
What he does take seriously, however, is The Work. He cares what he churns out, which is why he doesn’t churn stuff out. He goes through three, four, even five drafts, with his digestive system becoming increasingly disturbed as he approaches the end. He might spend four years on a short novel of 50,000 words, as he did with his latest : Beatle Bones (hat-tip to Captain Beefheart), exploring the absurdities of John Lennon’s interactions with Mayo County Council.
Who knows how long his sequel to Bohane will take? Maybe not long at all, if we’re to believe him about the sounds and the cadences of the thing. I suspect he already has it all sketched in his head and maybe even already spoken out loud to make certain it runs as it should with the rhythms correct and the words where they belong.
He sees himself as a Limerick-bred writer, but by no means a parochial one. He recognises his influences, far less highbrow than the average successful author might admit, but more appropriate to the modern era. The Wire. The Sopranos. Deadwood. He listens to music all the time as he writes. The soundtrack to Beatle Bones was the Double White album. He’s disturbingly honest (another reason to hate him) about the amount of inspiration he stole from contemporary television. He describes such near-mythological Limerick creatures as Michael Curtin, who had published six novels in Britain when Barry was a lad and he speaks of the great change that relieves writers of the need to live in London or New York. Curtin, for his own part, is a fervent admirer of Kevin Barry’s work, though the two have never met.
Acknowledging the mix of Cork and Limerick, stirred about with some dub reggae and a little voudou, that became the city of Bohane, Barry speaks of the unique language patterns and vowel sounds that place this novel in a unique place, even though that place doesn’t exist. Echoing Flann O Brien’s absurd and hilariously sinister Corkadorcha of The Poor Mouth, he describes Bohane as a place somewhere between Limerick and Cork: A sort of spiritual Charleville. When I read the book, for the first fifty pages I thought it was New Orleans or maybe Hell’s Kitchen before the truth dawned on me, but there you are. I’ve always been a bit slow.
Bohane is Limerick and the obvious conclusion is this. Surely if we can trundle credulous Japanese tourists around Limerick on the rain-sodden, misery-laced Frank McCourt trail, we can do it even better with City of Bohane tours. A lot less po-faced solemnity and a lot more dub reggae.
There’s talk of a TV version of Bohane, though he recoils in horror at the suggestion that the accents might not be genuine Limerick but instead the new synthetic, generic, robotic Roadwatch drone. Aargh no!
How will the sequel work out?
He won’t say, apart from a hint. Bohane is gone to fuck altogether.
As I said, it’s hard to dislike Kevin Barry.