Book Quote Friday: Bohane

City of BohaneYou know, sometimes you come across a book that shatters your concept of what a book could, or should, be with a new hook, a fresh turn or a incredible imagination stretch. You lay it down halfway through and exhale deeply, incredulously, not wanted to let it go from your hands but needing to take a break to come to terms with the onslaught. The magical and spell-binding onslaught. You’ve had that, right? This book is one of those. 

I’m talking about 'City of Bohane' by Kevin Barry, by the way, which fell into my hands at the oft-mentioned Vintage Open Day where I met the man himself. He’s nice, I thought, he’s Irish, he wears a snazzy hat. I hadn’t read his book yet though, so didn’t really have any concept/questions/excitement.

However, this book is AMAZING. Having read it, I regretted not having taken the opportunity to ask him a thousand questions about it, i.e. where did your ideas come from, how much does this speak about modern Ireland, and are you deranged? It’s really excellent: great plot, memorable charcters and a real voice, which at times is really rather salty.  It’s a work of pure creation, although ‘pure’ might be a bit mis-leading, chock-full of low lives and obscenities as it is. It’s an experience, if you like. You really should read it.

The thing I want to focus on in this book quote post is the new language thing, which means the whole feel and flavour of the book is infused with a type of rough Irish skaz, a la Anthony Burgess or Catcher in the Rye, but stoned, probably, on the banks of the river in a flashy outfit after scuffling with a sand pikey. Or something like that. Basically, in this book, the words take on the idiosyncrasies of characters and create a soundtrack of phrase and expression. Y’ sketchin’? The passage below is to give you an idea of it, but you need to stay with it for longer, I think, to get the full feel. Apologies if it’s a bit strong: I was hard pressed to find a passage not littered with swearing and questionable content, so the best I could offer, whilst hopefully illustrating the point, is a fair amount of euphemism and helpful mis-spelling. Enjoy.

     ‘So happened that not all of our knocking shops in Bohane were on the S’town side of the footbridge. The infamous Blind Nora’s, for example, drew its clientele down a hard-to-find sideway of the Back Trace, and Ol’ Boy Mannion, as Fair Day to a noontime roar, turned a dainty toe towards the place.

     By midday an air of happy derangement had settled on the Trace. You could barely walk the wynds for the large and ragged crew that bounced off the tenement walls. There were big lunks of hill-country sluggers, and pipe-mad pikeys on the loose from the rez, and syphilitic freaks with lost-time dreams in their eyes, and washed-up auld hoors, and one-legged trick-ponies (the gout often a danger to the lads of that trade), and sand-pikey watches roved the city with a strange, unnameable fear about them, and the Fancy boys blithely prowled, and the polis beaks, and scar-faced Norrie mendicants with wooden bowls for alms, and wilding packs of feral teenage sluts, and tormented preachers hollering the wages of sin from the top of stoops, and any one of this crowd could turn a shkelp in your lung as quick as they’d look at you, but as he walked through it all, with his snout held high and a wryness even in his carriage, even in his footfall, Ol’ Boy Mannion was notably immune to the madness, and he felt no fear.

     Ol’ Boy wore:

     A three-piece skinny-dude suit in the classic mottled-green shade, a pair of silver-painted jackboots (square-toed) on the dancers, and a dove-grey stovepipe hat up top, leaning westerly, with a delicate length of crimson scarf tied around it.

     Snazzy, no?

     Slugged from the hip flask of the Beast, did Ol’ Boy, and took the occasional draw on a herb-pipe.

     Wasn’t so much high as maintaining.
     The wynds of the Trace were mud and shite and puke underfoot and he placed the step carefully, with an eye to his boots, because they hadn’t cost him tuppence ha’penny, no, sir.
      He went down a sideway, and then another, and took the twist of a turn once more, and the Trace quietened some as he went deeper into it, and he came at last to Blind Nora’s.’


  1. I read the book earlier this year after attending the Vintage Open Day at which Kevin Barry spoke.

    The author, like his fiction, is mesmerising.

    Some of the best prose I have read since the days of Chandler and Hammett

    For me, City Of Bohane is a dead cert to be on the ManBooker Longlist.

  2. Hear hear! If that does happen, we could host a little virtual party for him here - we could all get 'Irish writer hats' or something :)

  3. Wow. This does sound brilliant. Itching to read it now.

    Have you read any of his short stories? They're superb, too.

    1. Hi Kim, yeah, I read the one that was in The New Yorker a year or two ago, called 'The Flood' I think? I thought that was really great, although much more realist than Bohane, which dampened it a little for me as I loved the Sin City-esque hyper reality of this one. Are there any other ones I should keep and eye out for? Looking forward to reading your review of this one.

    2. He's just won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. I've been reading his first short story collection, There are Little Kingdoms, on and off for about a year — it's so good, I don't want it to end, which is why I have been dragging it out!

    3. Great! Will have to seek it out. It's so great when writers you feel a real excitement about win things, v pleased for him.


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