Review: Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

The east coast of Ireland belongs to Roddy Doyle and his sharp-toothed city characters. But the rural west coast of Ireland is something else entirely: a land beautiful, wet, and mean, where spirits routinely run in with locals.

This is the land of author Kevin Barry, and his latest novel, Beatlebone (forthcoming from Doubleday), reads like the west coast itself: Part dream, part madness, not for the weak, but like nothing else on this earth.

Beatlebone begins with a well-known protagonist: John Lennon. The year is 1978, and John is burned out, fed up, and looking for a place to practice some primal screaming therapy. (Hey, it’s the 70s). He purchases a small island sight unseen, then travels to the coast in the hopes of spending three life-changing days alone on the island. He’ll scream, he’ll gnash his teeth, and he’ll return to land a new man.

Except things don’t go according to plan.

It’s the beginning of an Odessan journey for John, with taxi driver and handler Cornelius O’Grady at the helm: a journey that will involve a derelict hotel with three ranting denizens; a life-changing encounter with a benevolent seal; a group of women dressed in black who throw themselves into the sea; a 112 year old woman; and an old salt of a dog named Brian Wilson.

Like any magical journey, you need to keep eyes open and your wits about you when reading Barry. The scenes move swiftly from character to character with few, if any, dialogue tags for assistance; there are jumps in time and narration, including a section from the author’s point of view as well as another involving John post-island, attempting to make art – and sense – out of the experience.

Just “cling the f*** on,” as John says. This wild ride might change your life.