Warning: I’m going over my 10 sentence limit with this one!
Kevin Barry’s fictionalised account of John Lennon’s visit to the island he owned in the Irish sea is a work of aural loveliness. Yes, I did just say “aural” because this piece of writing is an audiological symphony of sounds – music, harmony, silence, screaming, ranting, nature’s melody and the racket in one’s head. My sensory experience of this book has been very different to other reads. My memory of it is of noise and silence. Near the start, the Lennon of the book is told to “listen – really listen to fuck’n everything around you”. It feels like an instruction to the reader as well as the character. What Lennon really wants to do is to “scream his fucking lungs out” – what I did was open my ears.
This re-imagining of John Lennon’s search for the words and melody to his next piece of work clips along at a pace due to Barry’s lilting poetic style (I either heard the words in my head in a gorgeous Irish twang or the nasally soft scouse Lennon was known for). This retreat is also supposed to help Lennon to “at last be over himself” and for him to “be that fucking lonely I’ll want to fucking die”. Although there is a plot, plot is not what this book is about. It is more an exploration of a myriad emotions, not least abandonment, self loathing and doubt, but set against the bewitchingly described picturesque west of Ireland land- and seascapes Barry so mesmerisingly evokes with his well chosen and clearly much thought through words, the book becomes less of a depressing rant and more a cathartic journey.
Barry also messes with form and structure in this work; it is either set out in volumes with little punctuation or like a script with character “lines”. Then, just when you think you know where you are, Barry inserts himself into the narrative, taking over several pages to explain his own journey of research to write this book. It’s a brave move to slot a reportage section into fiction that is rumbling along quite nicely and has the reader in their reading stride. Somehow it worked for me – I wasn’t put off by it at all, in fact I was struck by the similarities between Barry’s (or the unnamed writer’s) search for answers and his mental state, and the Lennon of the fiction.
I loved this book for lots of reasons, all of which I could ramble on about (music nerds will enjoy spotting Beatles lyrics slotted into the narrative), mainly though I was bowled over by the perfectly chosen turns of phrase which deftly describe a situation, a scene, a character, a sound or a view and quite honestly the hilarious chapter in the pub which turns into some Godawful trip is worth reading the book for on its own.
6 thoughts on “Beatlebone – Kevin Barry”
I’m not a massive Beatles fan, which has rather put me off this. Interesting to see you liked the reportage-inserts, it seems a very Marmite technique from what I’ve seen.
I’ll probably read his short stories first before trying this. Did like City of Bohane though.
Hi Max, I’ve seen the dislike for the reportage bits in this book also. It is a real reader splitter! You don’t need to like, or even know anything about the Beatles to enjoy this book.
I’m debating this one for my husband who is a total Beatles fan…
Don’t be deceived. This is a fictional account of JL’s visit to his island. But if he’s an avid fan he’ll want to read it anyway. Whatever you decide, it is an amazing book in my opinion!
Great review! I wasn’t at all sure this book was for me but then I read one of Kevin Barry’s short stories and became an instant convert.
Thanks Susan! I really loved it. He has such lyrical way of writing, but I have seen other readers say they detested his reportage insertion and it just confused things. If You get a chance to read this, perhaps when it is our in paperback, it is worth giving it a go, especially if you’ve enjoyed his short stories. It’s also quite short!