From Ireland, in the Coming Times: On Barry's 'City of Bohane'
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City of Bohane
author: Kevin Barry
publisher: Graywolf Press
pub date: 03.13.2012
pp: 288
tags: SF , Literary Fiction

Greg Londe on City of Bohane

From Ireland, in the Coming Times: On Barry's 'City of Bohane'

September 8th, 2012 reset - +

A MAN WAKES UP ON A BUS and cannot remember his name or how he got there. When he speaks, his voice, baritone and stuttering, comes as a surprise to him. A duffle bag above his seat contains some clothes, a pack of cigarettes, and a scrap of paper indicating an appointment at an auction house, so he learns that he smokes and has a destination. The bus deposits the passenger in an Irish town, where sheer instinct carries him to the auctioneer’s address. She hands him keys and a lease, so he learns his name and assumes ownership of a chipper in Clonmel. For the drifting amnesiac protagonist of Kevin Barry’s short story “See the Tree, How Big It’s Grown,” published in his debut collection There Are Little Kingdoms (2007), everything in Ireland seems “familiar but odd, as if the streets were running into the wrong streets, as if the hills were wrong, and the sky at a crooked slant.” Gradually, the drifter assumes the identity collected from stray clues, moved by an uncanny sense of habit to order his usual at the pub and to sing karaoke versions of songs he apparently knows by heart. Even as memory hauls up a violent past, he feels comfortable imitating himself, “utterly alive with entrepreneurial swagger.” If the tracksuit and key ring fit, wear ‘em. To stride into the future you needn’t remember the past, just exist in what it has left you.

Kevin Barry’s new novel, City of Bohane, takes place in the future. In this, it is almost unique in the history of Irish literature, which has generally confined itself to mirroring the perpetually traumatic present, or attempting to resuscitate the dead. To be sure, Ireland has a strong line in fantastic travels and the exploration of invented worlds – from Swift’s Lilliput to Beckett’s strange dystopian rooms – but aside from Robert Cromie’s pioneering A Plunge into Space (1890), Lord Dunsany’s influential fantasy stories, and Joseph O’Neill’s Land Under England (1935) there is no longstanding native tradition of prognosis or projection. You need an industrial revolution to dream up utopias of technological progress or to warn of development’s dangers; you need a settled past to feel at home in the day-to-day, not a torn record of colonial erasures and abortive revolts. Time may spiral or gyre in Irish lit, but it rarely moves confidently into the distance. City of Bohane is set in 2053, in the “once great and cosmopolitan city” that Barry has invented, placed on the island’s western edge, and made his main character – a city that also feels “familiar but odd.” Bohane is a cutthroat warren of sparring gangs and sinister alleyways, a hybrid place full of warriors and wastrels that can still, for all the infighting, speak with a collective “we” that constantly gauges its own bad moods: “Bohane could be a tricky read. It has the name of an insular and contrary place, and certainly, we are given to bouts of rage and hilarity, which makes us unpredictable.” As in his earlier short story, Barry enters the dim coming days by yoking nostalgia and amnesia into a tricky palm-spit handshake of an alliance. The city pines for past glories and fingers its scars (“the long-gone days when Bohane would have won All-Irelands”; “Long gone in Bohane the days of the discos”), but the narrator conceives of the past only as “the lost time.”

Partly in deference to this oft-eulogized “lost time,” early reviewers of the novel have been circumspect about whether the faded grandeur and savage power struggles of Bohane descend from the post-Celtic Tiger state of Ireland today. If the multicultural riot of the impoverished future bears reference to Ireland’s recent past – the boom and bust of the millennial economy, and the influx of Eastern European, Asian, and African immigrants since the 1990s – Barry certainly does not want to trace some sociological vector in order to get us to the good pulpy stuff of which his story is made. But still, since critics of Irish literature (if not always readers) have been clamoring for a social panorama that might make something, some rough billion-footed beast, out of the rich material of profound social change, it is worth asking whether that book has arrived. So what is Irish history – which in 2053 includes the headlines of 2012 – to Bohane?

In “See the Tree, How Big It’s Grown,” even in the sheer blankness of the amnesiac’s first waking, “There were certain pieces of information available”:

He knew, for example, that the course of Irish history was besmirched with treacheries and suppressions. He knew this because in some foggy classroom at the back of his mind he had been made to read it aloud to the rest of the children, despite or maybe even because of his terrible stammer. T-t-t-the course of I-I-Irish history is b-b-b-besmirched […] You wouldn’t likely forget the treacheries and suppressions after that.

Within Barry’s narrative world, it matters less who was betrayed and what was suppressed than that things are besmirched. History hurt; you learned it by rote; now get on with your dancing and dying. The plot of the novel, simple and generic but great fun, gets on fine: once a major player in the gangland of Bohane, hard-man Gant Broderick has returned from exile to reclaim his lost love Immaculata, who happens to be the wife of Logan Hartnett, the dapper albino don of the Hartnett Fancy. As Gant’s reappearance signals the Fancy’s loosening grip on the city, the competition smells blood and prepares for battle while underlings in the Fancy jockey for a rise. As in the Celtic sagas, and as in Michael Mann’s Heat, “a small world shudders when giants collide.” But the noir-drenched details are less important than the synthetic vernacular in which they are spun and the sense that time is dislocated, like someone’s shoulder after a bar-fight. “You will encounter there an overwhelming sense of déjà vu,” dear tourist of Bohane:

Invariably, that odd swoop in the spirit occurs, and you are flung back to an inner lost-time that you can never quite place. It is a frightening sensation – one senses an odd lurch within, a movement that can almost feel nauseous. Thoughts come loose. Souls hang on the air. Warps occur.

Let’s say it plainly, then: While Irish housing firms were building the estates that now crumble for want of buyers, Kevin Barry was building Bohane. Both are sites of dangerous play, dreadfully intriguing to watch from a distance. Anyone who has been 15 and stuck in the suburbs, drunk on a whisper of pilfered vodka, knows that abandoned or half-built houses are the best places to squat for an evening, to creep among the drywall and palates of lumber, to scrawl a name and a taunt on the walls, playing in the lost or unfinished promise of enclosure and privacy. There are a lot of these houses in Ireland today, and a lot of bored teenagers in pajama-tops and distressed denim who grew up in the only moment of prosperity the island had seen in modern memory, and who are now being told that that prosperity was the exception that proves the rule. Barry’s book romps in the dereliction with the aimless but desperate amusement of a vandal.

His story collections There Are Little Kingdoms (2007) and Dark Lies the Island (published in Ireland and the UK in May, forthcoming in America) writhe with the young of contemporary Ireland, who mash arcade buttons, pine for kisses, drive in borrowed cars, and flirt violently with shopkeepers too titillated by the memory of lost summers to give the kids the boot. The adults act like rebellious teenagers, given to defacing storefronts or shooting the shit with magic-realist genies that emerge from the lamp to offer half-promises of a good life and disappear in a puff of smoke. In City of Bohane those no-future felons seem to have grown homicidal and feral (in a natty, brutally fashionable sort of way), but in truth, they’re just an amplification of bored and resourceful adolescents anywhere. Barry’s novel is their costume party, in which the revelers dress in Dashiell Hammett’s hand-me-down rags and John Ford’s costume department castoffs, in dapper western wear and vinyl cat-suits, in belts strung with scalps. The grown-up-wrong gangs of Bohane – their intricate and unspoken codes of conduct, their cracking voices, their pull to melancholy and madness by pop music, their insistence on sharp duds and trend-surfing – give off a faintly customary saudade but feel no less real for all that posing.

Barry has written a ripping good tale about dangerous people wrestling for control of an uncontrollable place, which is at once the best caricature of contemporary Ireland yet to appear this century and a book that seems willfully disinterested in claiming that title. “In the Bohane creation,” he writes, “time comes loose, there is a curious fluidity, the past seeps into the future, and the moment itself as it passes is the hardest to grasp.”

¤

James Joyce once boasted to Frank Budgen that he had sought in Ulysses “to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” In addition to being a wonderful conceit for a speculative fiction, Joyce’s famous line invites us to imagine how that reconstruction might actually progress: Envision the vanished city rebuilt by committee from the shaky blueprint of an experimental novel, warped by new zoning regulations and refashioned gradually by a steady arrival of refugees and world citizens, and you might wind up with a somewhere like Bohane. Its avenues are “laid out to a vaguely Soviet pattern,” surrounded by an “Arab tangle of alleyways and wynds,” and a lot can hide in that mix of bloc urbanization and orientalist murk. Barry’s work rejiggers the spatial and linguistic verve of Joyce’s small metropolis for an Ireland that has finally known immigration after centuries of depopulating emigration. He multiplies the accents but still records the sound of voices in chance collision on streets where gossip travels fast.

Barry provides a map of his eponymous city on the endpapers of the book. In the tradition of Hardy’s Wessex, Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, Baum’s Oz, and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Bohane can be seen from above, compass rose pinned like a brooch to the handsome illustration, before we find our protagonists down on its gnarly streets. There is a “Kevin Barry Square,” devoid of monuments and never mentioned in the novel, nestled between the sprawl of New Town and the mansions of Beau Vista. The author’s presumably memorial plaza (does Barry guess he won’t make it to a ripe old 84?) is bracketed by the bourgie homes of the Bohane Dacency. It joins other landmarks named after laureates of dubious relevance to the denizens of these future neighborhoods, including crowded flatblocks with names like “Seamus Heaney,” “Louis MacNeice,” and “Patrick Kavanagh” – whoever they were – inscribed above the doors. Barry is ambitious enough to build a world in which his work will be remembered alongside the greats, and cheeky enough to admit it won’t matter to anyone who lives there.

The two most telling details of the Bohane map are the central artery of “De Valera Street” and the vast undrawn desert called “Big Nothin’” surrounding the dense city. Beyond Bohane lies only wasteland, from which might mosey a high-plains, or low-bog, drifter. Fade away into that mysterious margin or follow the Bohane River out “to the Black Atlantic” and either way you’ll know that Barry’s town is centrifugal, uninterested in the whereabouts of a Bohane diaspora. It is self-enclosed but also hybrid and strange, a port city where the docks are dark. As the narrator muses with a sort of appreciation for the author who created him, “our world was so densely made and intricate about us” – like a net trawling for mob corpses, like a walled-in embrace. De Valera Street and the Big Nothin’ bear a complex reciprocal relationship, both in the novel and in the history of Irish urban experience across the twentieth century: tattooing that name down the middle of the Bohane extends the shadow of Eamon De Valera’s mid-twentieth century Ireland 40 years into the future.

A participant in the 1916 Uprising, founder of the Fianna Fáil party, architect of the 1937 Constitution, and Taoiseach and President for various intervals, De Valera was the dominant political figure in Ireland from independence until the state began opening to Europeanization in the 1960s. His name stands for all the conservatism, censorship, and piety of Ireland’s grey mid-century. Fearing foreign entanglements would compromise Éire’s hard-won independence, De Valera called for tight-bordered self-sufficiency and political neutrality in world affairs. His 1943 St. Patrick’s Day radio address has become his most infamous statement of pastoral alibi, plastered over the deserted villages and endemic poverty of those who fled a dying agricultural order for Dublin or Limerick or London or New York: as War raged out in the Big Nothin’ of the world and the cities teemed with the unemployed, Dev broadcast “the ideal Ireland” that would be “satisfied with frugal comfort… a land whose countryside would be bright with cozy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens.” This was hazy romantic pabulum, met with bitter grins by those who knew the eerie silence of the fields, the high rates of infant mortality, and the late marriage of “happy maidens” in a land whose eligible bachelors had fled for distant metropoles. The residue of such useless and hyperbolic wistfulness becomes a constant joke in City of Bohane. “‘All Our Yesterdays’ was by far the most popular and prestigious column in the Bohane Vindicator,” we learn. “Nostalgia was off the fucking charts.”

As Joe Cleary has pointed out in his book Outrageous Fortune: Capital and Culture in Modern Ireland, it was the strange case that in the 1990s, when Ireland finally emerged from economic catastrophe and the conservative Catholic state faced obsolescence, the major literary texts of the decade avoided the future and instead returned incessantly to the bad old days of the 1940s and ‘50s. John McGahern’s Amongst Women set the tone in 1990, with its austere portrait of a brutal patriarch taking out his failures in the public world of post-revolutionary Ireland on his daughters in the rural midlands. From the sepia-toned misery parade of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes to Martin McDonagh’s thatch-roofed riffs on Tarantino in The Beauty Queen of Leenane (both from 1996), Irish writers at the turn of the millennium compulsively strolled up and down “De Valera Street.” Cleary suggests such texts made purposeful return to the trauma of mid-century deprivation and moral repression that “could not be fully assimilated at the time of its occurrence.” Sometimes this work took on an elegiac tone for the pre-industrial and the rural, but more often it meant a scarifying reckoning with the past and a recognition that not enough had truly changed. These authors came to chide the dizzy, spendthrift jubilation of the Celtic Tiger era, to tell the new batch of romping sturdy children to settle down and remember that cultural darkness cannot be erased by bank ledgers going into the black.

To all that anxious retrospective and skepticism about progress, Ctiy of Bohane offers at last its “great deranged happiness.” In Barry’s future West, De Valera Street has become the ironic space where the “here comes everybody” of the new multicultural Ireland meet and mingle:

Yes and here they came, all the big-armed women and all the low-sized butty fellas. Here came the sullen Polacks and the Back Trace crones. Here came the natty Africans and the big lunks of bog-spawn polis. Here came the pikey blow-ins and the washed-up Madagascars. Here came the women of the Rises down the 98 Steps to buy tabs and tights and mackerel – of such combinations was life in the flatblock circles sustained[…]De Valera Street was where all converged, was where all trails tangled and knotted.

Bohane may be isolated, but it’s everyone’s isolation now. The novel is built around this exotic, paradoxical friction. There is a matter-of-fact quality to the crossbred demographics of Bohane that makes the novel seem like a parody of both the hopes and fears surrounding immigration in contemporary Ireland.

How would fiction greet the increasing diversity that prosperity brought to Dublin? By 2006, one in ten people living in Ireland hadn’t been born there. The new visibility of immigrants in the country made it easy to overstate the ethnic homogeneity that had preceded this shift, and as Ireland became a place of convergence, many commentators reacted to a growing number of reports of discrimination by fancying that racism was a new innovation in Ireland. A referendum on immigration in 2004 led to the 27th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, eliminating the right to citizenship by birth on the island (which had been law since the founding of the Free State in 1922). To be an Irish citizen, one must now have parents who are Irish citizens, or face a complicated naturalization process. As a counterpoint to this increasing legal and interpersonal hostility toward immigrant populations, authors have mostly provided stories of vibrant encounter capped by safe, happy conclusions. The title story of Claire Keegan’s 2007 collection Walk the Blue Fields ends with an elderly Chinese masseur offering a new form of comfort to an Irish priest suffering a crisis of faith. Even as sharp a social observer as Roddy Doyle frames the stories he wrote for Metro Eireann, a multicultural newspaper founded in 2000 by the Dublin-based Nigerian journalists Abel Ugba and Chinedu Onyejelem, as somewhat naively optimistic tales of cross-cultural collision. In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a middle-aged Archie Bunker-type slowly bonds with his daughter’s African friend, though only after he learns that the two are not dating. As with the Irish/Czech duet at the center of the film (and now hit musical) Once, Doyle’s chance encounters testify to the beautiful music that can be made across such collaborations. Kevin Barry, by contrast, is as interested in cacophony as in collaboration. The need to write consoling fictions about these developments apparently ended somewhere in the years before Gant Broderick – himself “halfways pikey, halfways whiteman,” in the words of one character – came home. As he walks down De Valera Street, Gant is welcomed by familiar voices: “The Bohane accent sounded everywhere: flat and harsh along the consonants, sing-song and soupy on the vowels, betimes vaguely Caribbean.”

Consider the deadly Jenni Ching. We meet this stogie-smoking seventeen-year-old assassin, who slowly grows her own cult of personality in the city, in Bohane’s first pages, where we are told that “the Chings were old Smoketown stock.” Delivered in passing, this description implies that the generations stretching back into the lost time have been naturalized into the melting pot of the West. It would be a stretch to call this progress: Jenni Ching, for all her canniness and sartorial wow, is little more than a pure dragon-lady stereotype. But as a purposeful parody, it marks a new approach.

¤

Lurking on its own sui generis side-street, City of Bohane bears an oblique relation to a recent crime wave in Irish fiction, the practitioners of which have made statements of craft collected in the invaluable 2010 anthology Down These Green Streets. The best-selling detective novels of Tana French, Ken Bruen, and John Connolly constitute the first major new school of Irish fiction to emerge in the twenty-first century. There are various reasons for this surge in Irish crime lit: Detective fiction provides useful fantasies of justice and disclosure in an Ireland that spent the turn of the millennium bailing out its corporate criminals and uncovering the violent history of its clergy. Ireland has also finally attained a degree of urbanization that could foster the anonymity at the heart of the private eye’s job. The cessation of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland meant that the dominant form of murder on the island could cede some imaginative room to other methods. And the coincidence of the end of the Troubles with the onset of the Celtic Tiger meant new flows through the underground channels of deviant globalization. All those guns had to go somewhere.

But then, a certain insouciant attitude toward murder has been a mainstay of Irish fiction for centuries, though the deaths had never really required detection. In a mock-anthropological footnote, the final sentence of Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1800) informs the non-native, “In Ireland, not only cowards, but the brave ‘die many deaths before their death.’—There killing is no murder.” Death is anything but final in the haunted Gothic worlds of Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, and Charles Maturin. The patricide in J. M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World (1907) becomes a source of communal celebration – what could be better teenage kicks than offing your Da? – until the dead father arrives on stage to drag the truant son off by his ear. Synge’s play is, as Fintan O’Toole has written, “a murder mystery in reverse,” and this topsy-turvy expression of the genre continues in John B. Keane’s play The Field (1965), where the entire parish knows who killed whom, and the problem is one of collective silence rather than collective uncertainty. Barry is aware of this tradition, and even establishes a direct link with some of the anomalies of Irish noir that preceded the contemporary boom: his character Gypo Lenihan, for instance, shares a moniker of Gypo Nolan from Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer (1925), the king-for-a-day trapped bull of a protagonist who grasses on a revolutionary comrade and spends his police reward in a single night while awaiting retribution.

Murders remained rare enough in Ireland until recent years – so rare that a grisly triple homicide, on which John Banville based his 1989 novel The Book of Evidence, led to the invention of the fantastic acronym “G.U.B.U.” Coined by Conor Cruise O’Brien, paraphrasing then Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s response to the crime, it stands for “grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, and unprecedented.” It is as fine a four-word description of the Gothic as has ever been gasped. And yet crime statistics in Ireland have revealed that gangland killings, particularly in Barry’s hometown of Limerick, are grotesque and bizarre, certainly, but have now become utterly believable and routine. Herein lies the difference between crime fiction of the gumshoe variety and crime fiction of the gangs. In his contribution to Down These Green Streets, novelist John Connolly claims,

Plots revolving around such killings are a kind of literary dead end. I don’t think that they have anything in themselves to say about the human condition or, indeed, shine any great light on Irish urban life. Books about our native gangsters sell well as non-fiction[…] just as headlines about them sell newspapers, but if such individuals are noteworthy it is only because of their blank viciousness. Expecting them to provide us with any kind of answers or material of substance for fiction is like expecting the protagonists of a dogfight to suddenly begin barking poetry.

But what if, fantastically, growls begat the Grand Style? If a brute with a handful of cash should suddenly spout ballads about his own badness, one could do a far sight worse than to stand back and press ‘record.’ That doggerel would be catnip for a stylist like Barry. Barry keeps the violence close and quick, but also turns it into a kind of national sport: not a gun in sight, but everyone has boots, matches, and knives. A taste: “So it was the lardarse kid on fire sprinted tubbily the wynds of the Trace and he ran onto the dock and leapt head first into the roaring blackwaters of the river.” Another: “Wolfie meantime worked his stormtroopers repeatedly about the man’s face in neat precise stomps – happy in his work, the boy – so it would be a while anyways before this meat had a name put to it.” Barry exploits the grotesque, roguish sheen of these endemic droogs. He even relishes the public taste for lurid tales by delivering portions of the story via the flashbulb images of the Bohane Vindicator’s page A1. The novel’s labor is to take contemporary gang violence, let it loose upon the ageless De Valerean tangle, and then postdate that provincial steampunk melee to 2053.

Connolly’s critique does suggest, at least, what one might feel while reading Bohane. Perhaps because of this “dead end” gangsterism, the book is heavy on atmospherics but somewhat lightweight when it comes to consequences. Some of Barry’s acknowledged influences have been tossed into the tank, but for better or worse their fangs have been pushed against the glass of his pure style and milked of their venom. Here is the panorama of Murdaland from The Wire, minus that show’s indignation at systemic corruption. Here are the ham-fisted sociopaths of Frank Miller’s Sin City comics, but without the zealous libertarianism that undergirds their actions. What’s left is pure movement and self-conscious noir as a font of pre-fab weariness. The place is too plural for any aul’talk of the “human condition,” but it’s nevertheless peculiar to read a book that talks so much about melancholy without ever actually feeling melancholy, that gives us so much violence with such a sweet tongue.

¤

You don’t have to wait until 2053 to go and raise a glass among this book’s baroque rituals. If you have the time and the means for manic travel this August, might I recommend that you plan a visit to Bohane? Without revealing how the novel’s threads braid together, I can note that the long final chapter of the book gathers everyone “On the Night of the August Fair,” and that this festival bears a filial resemblance to the annual Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry.

The chief feature of the Fair, which stretches back to the medieval period, has always been the selection, crowning, and release of a wild goat that reigns as King Puck from atop a three-story high platform in Killorglin’s town center, his horns bent over an abundance of roughage. In photos taken by David Hurn and Martin Parr for Magnum in the 1980s, you can see a parade that looks unchanged from ancient Ireland (when there were more kings around to mock in this manner) to the picturesque present: costumed kids lead Puck’s procession to his throne on the gathering day, demolished drunks sleep in the street on the scattering day. In Bohane, as in Kerry, the Fair is “a time of massive hilarity, and sentimental music, and it was a most useful pressure valve, for these were hard times in the city, in this hard town by the sea.” Barry’s characters “lace into it like pagans.”

Touring West Kerry in 1906, J.M. Synge wrote of Puck Fair:

On the main roads, for many days past, I have been falling in with tramps and trick characters of all kinds, sometimes single and sometimes in parties of four or five[…]A crowd is as exciting as champagne to these lonely people, who live in long glens among the mountains[…]At the foot of the platform, where the crowd was thickest, a young ballad-singer was howling a ballad in honour of Puck, making one think of the early Greek festivals, since the time of which, it is possible, the goat has been exalted yearly in Killorglin.

Barry loves these “tramps and trick characters” as fervently as Synge. In her stunning 1965 travelogue The Orgy, American poet Muriel Rukeyser offers a book-length description of her similar pilgrimage to Puck. What she finds is a world-carnival of sales and sexuality turning inside out the Christian repressions of mid-20thcentury Ireland:

[Killorglin] looks like a drab little Victorian town. And is, except for three days of the year, in August[…]All this time people from all over are converging on the town—all over Kerry, of course, all over the country, and from Persia, they say, and Spain, and Europe, and cops in New York save up all year to go to Puck. The night before the Fair, all the little shops around the square, that sell all the things little shops sell—they close, and in the morning when they open, each one is a pub. The goat is crowned king—they say the tinkers choose their king there, too, but that of course is done in secret. The town is wide open, they say. It’s the last of the goat festivals: Greece, Spain, Scotland, England—the last.

With this kind of global convergence in mind, Kevin Barry has come to remind the world of its old parties. If Barry has avoided writing an allegory for the build-up and teardown of the Irish economy, avoided bothering with that narrative as the exceptional story of contemporary Ireland, it’s because he would rather recall festivals that are built up and torn down every year. Carnivals mark time through the fluid transformation of performances as they circulate through space and emerge anew from our imperfect memory: old dances gain new steps, costumes are adorned with new filigrees, covert handshakes take on a distinct firmness – all the re-invention that would be impossible without a bit of willful forgetting and “lost time.” It’s not hard to imagine the calypso, dub, and fado soundtrack of Bohane’s August Fair as a spot-on predictor of the sound of Puck in days to come.

So here is our future Ireland: It looks a lot like 1853, a lot like 1953, and it holds out the perpetual hope of “a good aul’ tangle o’ romance an’ all, y’check me?” Trade dour economic cycles for the cycle of the-night-before-the-morning-after. Like Puck Fair itself, Barry’s novel is a fertility ritual, accomplished not through sacrifice but by building an ephemeral altar to the lingeringly hip. This is a bloody book, an abattoir of skinned men strung up as warnings, of boots on pulped faces, of scars and the stories of how they got there. But in the end, amidst arcane rituals for the transfer of gangland sovereignty, the goat survives.

¤

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