Review: City of Bohane

City of Bohane
City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was really hoping this book would warrant 5 stars. I’ve read Mr Barry’s collection of short stories Dark Lies the Island and was genuinely thrilled and enthralled by all of the stories in it so I had high hopes for this. Someone has described The City of Bohane as James Joyce writes Sin City and that’s a pretty fair description. Barry certainly has a way with lyricism and imagery that lives with you long after you’ve finished reading but unlike his short stories I found the ending flat and very unfulfilling. That book starts very strongly immersing the reader into the wonderful, almost Dickensian, future city of Bohane with its flamboyant gangs, copious amounts of exotic drugs, haggard whores and a deep, throbbing calypso/ska soundtrack. At no point does Barry explain what has happened in the future and this is a strength of the book, as it lends it a strong authenticity. Characters pine for the ‘Lost Time’ but this isn’t explained and doesn’t need to be, after all, the characters know what it is/was and it wouldn’t be natural for them to explain at length the nature of it. One of my favourite moments is where we meet the narrator of the book, a fellow who runs a dream parlour, a place where, for a fee, you can watch old CCTV footage whilst he cranks up an appropriate 78 as musical accompaniment. I found this really beguiling and poignant. Customers go in, name the street they’re interested in and then watch what life was like before. The story is a tale of power and love. Of one gang leaders slow decent from power and another’s rise. It is a bitter, vicious world that Barry has created with characters that are colder than the wind that blows in off the Atlantic and whilst that can sustain you for a while, I really needed someone with a bit of warmth to keep me hooked. I’d be interested to hear what other’s thought about the ending?

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