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Dark Lies the Island Hardcover – September 24, 2013
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*Starred Review* Young as he is, Barry is already pushing a wheelbarrow of prizes stacked high with expectations. His first novel, City of Bohane (2012), received rapturous reviews and was a New York Times Notable Book. He has also been awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the 2011 Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and a story from this collection won the Sunday Times Short Story Award. As the title suggests, the stories are full of starry skies and scarred and scary types. Barry’s tales feature bogs and dogs, booze and lager, drugs and suffering. One character remarks, “I was finding out how carelessly life might be lived.” Several of the denizens of this dark Ireland live very carelessly indeed, as do those in exile in England. The writing is spectacular, alternately stately and hurried, occasionally clipped but never languid, steeped in the vernacular but never lacking precision, and very often pulsing with the rhythm of iambic pentameter. Smashing, compulsively readable stuff: Barry will be a household name, and soon. --Michael Autrey
“[Kevin Barry] isn't sparing with his powers. Even his throwaway lines are keepers. . . . What makes this book such a satisfying read is that his memorable sentence-writing is in the service of well-constructed, moving stories.” ―The New York Times
“This collection is subtler, more poetic and more disturbing [than City of Bohane]. It reveals the menace of everyday life. . . . By the end of a story, Barry has me in full sympathy with someone I might edge away from on the train. His regard for characters big and small and capacity to be funny without playing them for cheap laughs recalls George Saunders.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Stealthy and shimmering. . . . Darkness abounds in these 13 stories, though it takes its different forms: vileness, foreboding, ignorance, isolation, self-delusion, despair. . . . Often playful, comic, even gently so.” ―The Boston Globe
“If these tales are built around marginalized figures, there's nothing uniform about Barry's storytelling voice. He does humor. He does high drama. He even dabbles in horror (of a kind). And he can handle just about any other narrative form you might think of. . . . If City of Bohane earned Barry a modicum of global literary stardom . . . this collection leaves no doubt that he's earned all that's come his way. Deeply humane and immensely funny, Dark Lies the Island is another testament to his many talents.” ―Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“Barry's writing is a marvel: it is immoderate, probing, alive and lyrical, a cross between Roddy Doyle and Patrick McCabe. He plumbs his characters' lives and finds the nuances of everyday pathos and humor. . . . Dark Lies the Island is an exceptional collection by one of the most talented Irish writers of his generation.” ―Shelf Awareness, starred review
“At the risk of indulging in cultural stereotypes, Barry is Irish: when he writes a story, he tells a story, and he's not afraid of sentimental ending, if one presents itself. Along the way, he takes . . . contagious pleasure in his flawed, incorrigible people.” ―Lorin Stein, The Paris Review
“[Dark Lies the Island] shares the virtues that made Bohane such an astonishment--prose that rollicks and judders and constantly delights; a keen ear for the spoken language of Barry's native western Ireland; and above all . . . a way of lassoing moments of mystery that have the power to transform the lives of Barry's characters, a motley Irish medley of disturbed young women, devious old spinsters, blocked poets, thugs, boozers, exiles, and tortured civil servants. There is rich music, high humor, and deep blackness on every page. . . . You must read this impossibly gifted, unspeakably lovely Irish writer.” ―The Millions
“The collection is marked by Barry's playful style, whose central tension emerges through its contrast with the atmosphere of his storie's settings. He shows a perceptible love for the conventions of Irish literature without being bound by them, exhibiting a capacity for rhythmic and lyrical prose like Colm Toibin . . . along with equal aptitude for Flann O'Brien's deadpan absurdity. . . . The texture of Irish lives portrayed in this collection is familiar and truthful, even when the characters are larger and stranger than life.” ―The Barnes & Noble Review
“A boisterous and beautiful collection of stories. Barry is a prose wizard whose stories pulse on the page with all the humor and viciousness of life itself.” ―Sam Lipsyte
“[Kevin Barry] has a singular voice and imagination. . . . Satire is something that Barry excels at as he zeroes in on the hilarity and the dangers--especially the dangers--of small-town Irish ennui and insularity. . . . Dark Lies the Island achieves what any good story collection strives to, displaying Barry's vast range of talent and writerly moods.” ―Irish America Magazine
“Barry offers a second story collection that offers all the best qualities of his IMPAC award-winning debut novel, City of Bohane--the dark humor, apt characterization, and sharply condensed emotion, so well contained by the the beautiful sentences.” ―Library Journal, starred review
“The writing is spectacular, alternately stately and hurried, occasionally clipped but never languid, steeped in the vernacular but never lacking precision, and very often pulsing with the rhythm of iambic pentameter. Smashing, compulsively readable stuff: Barry will be a household name, and soon.” ―Booklist, starred review
“There are a lot of pleasures to be had. . . . There's his way with language––a bent form of Irish that makes the most mundane language, like those of the mileage-obsessed locals at the hotel bar in 'Fjord of Killary,' somehow hilarious. Then there's the pleasure of safely spending time in the company of people you might well cross the street to avoid. . . . The island and its inhabitants aren't doing well, and Barry is a master at showing both the darkness and the piercing moments of humor and self-knowledge that now and then penetrate it.” ―Publisher's Weekly, starred review
“Irish lyricism shines throughout the collection. . . . Barry writes stories that are character-driven, archetypical yet magnetic, pushing toward realism's edge where genre becomes irrelevant.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“I was greatly taken with Kevin Barry's Dark Lies the Island, a collection of hilarious and, often, hair-raising short stories.” ―Paul Muldoon, TLS Books of the Year
“[To] darkness, Barry brings poetry, nuance, and strange moments of grace. If Roddy Doyle and Nick Cave could procreate, the result would be something like Kevin Barry.” ―Cedar Rapids Gazette
“Unignorable. . . . A rhythmic Hiberno-English onslaught which forces black humour into the bleakest of corners.” ―The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Kevin Barry's best short stories are like a spade to the face. . . . There is a vividness to his writing that plants you immediately at its heart.” ―The Guardian (London)
“Barry's voice isn't brooding or sententious; it's wonderfully, restlessly alive. . . . Barry beautifully captures the melancholy of loneliness and necessity of comradeship.” ―The Times (London)
“Outstanding. . . . [These] stories triumph because they function on many levels––they are funny, sad, troubling, illuminating, often in equal measure.” ―Financial Times (London)
“[Kevin Barry's] prose is almost literally indescribable. . . . It's not hard to see a devoted following accrue around this singular talent.” ―Irish Independent
“From love, loss, regret and desire, [Kevin Barry] combines the real, the bizarre, and the mundane. His fluid style escorts the reader through a world that is funny, tragic, relentless, endearing. . . . A startlingly unique voice.” ―The Observer (London)
“A pacy collection of thirteen modern tales about sozzled Irish men, neatly captured middle-class couples, sinisterly plotting old women and damaged lesbian hipsters. It's sharply observed, frequently rude, often very funny.” ―The Independent on Sunday (London)
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Top Customer Reviews
There are thirteen stories in the new collection. The "Fjord of Killary" finds the patrons of the Water's Edge Hotel -- mostly "tough, knarly, west of Ireland" hill country people - holed up for the duration of a "particularly violent" storm, "an hysterical downpour, with great sheets of water streaming down from Mweelrea" which soon enough flooded the lower floors of the Hotel. Free drinks and the excitement generated by their predicament sustain the group while they await the outcome.
The prize story, "Beer Trip to Llandudo" is a gem, a story on a par with "Breakfast Wine" -- the pick of "Lttle Kingdoms." There, unless a third alcoholic is found to complement the two regular denizens of The North Star pub, it will be put on the block, and therein lies the tale. In "Llandudo", Barry presents us with the six members of the Real Ale Club, Lime Street, Aigburth, Liverpool on an ale tasting excursion to the old seaside resort town of Llandudo, Wales, at the height of summer. Here, to give you some idea of the clubs exploits, are the names of the ales consumed along their way that day: "Marston's Old Familiar" (case), "Phoenix Tram Driver" (on cask), "Bellhaven Bombardier" (one round), "Cornish Lightning" (a round), "Lancaster Bomber" (from the pump), St. Austell Tributes" (a round), "Whitstable Silver Star" (6.2 percent to volume), "Miner's Slattern" (on cask) and "Cumberland Pedigrees" (3.4 percent). As Big John put it at the end of the day, "We've supped some quality ale."
The understated badinage among the members is nothing short of masterful, particularly considering the rate at which they took on ale.
"Real Ale Club would not have marked Mo for a romancer."
" `The quiet ones you watch," said Tom N. `Maurice?' "
" `Mo? With a piece?' whispered Everett Bell"
Many of the other stories, including the title story "Dark Lies the Island," feel more sinister. Roddy Doyle, who provides a cover blurb, achieved a similar sense of lurking evil in his 1996 novel "The Woman Who Ran into Doors." "White Hitachi" and "Doctor Sot" deal with forlorn lives as does Barry in his just published story "Ox Mountain Death Song" (in the October 29, 2012 New Yorker). The Irish Times describes the darker stories in the new collection as "horrifically realistic narratives."
End Note. "Dark Lies the Island" apparently has not been published in the U.S. The accompanying cover illustration is from the English edition. Nevertheless, it is readily available from Amazon through its UK Book Depository at the standard U.S. shipping rate of $3.99. My copy came in less than ten days, much faster than the original estimated time of arrival.
Of the other ten stories, none are without merit, but most are merely good, and not noteworthy as the three aforementioned. It is not a book of stories I would read over and again like some of my favorites, but it is a book I am glad I read, for there are many serious things in life and it is a breath of magic to handle them with the humor and compassion Barry does.
But this is not a fun collection. Barry offers a grisly view of modern Irish life, especially for young men, in Eire and in the Irish diaspora. It used to be drink and guns. Now, apparently, it is drink, drugs, sex, fast food, and guns.
On the other hand, the prize-winning story of the beer drinkers club on an excursion had me laughing out loud, it was so funny--and yet so sad.