Dark Lies the Island: Stories

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Kevin Barry’s deliciously wicked collection Dark Lies the Island delivers on the many reckless promises made by his virtuosic and prizewinning debut novel, City of Bohane. It firmly establishes him as both a world-class word slinger and a masterful storyteller.

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Dark Lies the Island: Stories

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Kevin Barry’s deliciously wicked collection Dark Lies the Island delivers on the many reckless promises made by his virtuosic and prizewinning debut novel, City of Bohane. It firmly establishes him as both a world-class word slinger and a masterful storyteller.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Rachel Nolan
Barry's flamboyant first novel, City of Bohane, chronicles a feud between nattily dressed fast-talking ganglords and gang-ladies in the dystopian near future. This collection is subtler, more poetic and more disturbing. It reveals the menace of everyday life…Generally, 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.
Publishers Weekly
There are a lot of pleasures to be had in Barry’s short story collection. First, there’s his way with language—a bent form of Irish that makes the most mundane exchange, 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, like the Mullaney brothers in “White Hitatchi,” who are well-known to the local constabulary, or the law-abiding but big, sweaty, and, as their beer-tasting excursion extends, presumably loud, friends of “Beer Trip to Llandudno.” Whether they did well in the high-flying Celtic Tiger years, or, more likely, missed out entirely, whether in Ireland or part of the vast Irish diaspora, Barry’s characters tend to be aware of both the exact alcohol content of their chosen beverages and the likelihood that the road they’re on isn’t leading anywhere good. Though “Dark Lies the Island”—one of the few stories told from a female point of view—isn’t the collection’s strongest, it does offer the perfect title overall: 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. (Sept. 24)
Library Journal
★ 09/15/2013
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 beautiful sentences. Some of the stories artfully offer whole communities. In "Fjord of Killary," for instance, a narrator full of romantic idealism and the desire to remake himself has bought an old hotel in the wet west of Ireland and now finds that he despises the very rag with which he mops the bar. He senses that he's despised in turn by the crusty, exasperating locals, who think he acts superior. But during a particularly bad storm, as the water rises dangerously, the regulars in the bar explode into a round of dancing, and the whole story captures the darkness and exuberance of the Irish spirit. Other stories are fine portraits, as in "Across the Rooftops," which tenderly depicts a shy young man attempting a first kiss. VERDICT Highly recommended for lovers of short stories, Irish literature, and good reading generally.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
In his latest, Irish author Barry (City of Bohane, 2011, etc.) offers 10 pieces of literary fiction. A postmodern lens reflects youthful ineptness in "Across the Rooftops." In "Wifey Redux," perhaps the collection's best story, Saoirse, "blonde and wispily slight with a delicate, bone-china complexion," marries, births Ellie and turns to Pinot Grigio, while her dutiful husband becomes consumed by their daughter's beauty and her sex-obsessed suitors. A blocked poet turned innkeeper herds horny Belarus staff and droning, alcoholic locals in "Fjord of Killary" until, epiphany-flooded, "I felt a new, quiet ecstasy take hold. The gloom of youth had at last lifted." In "A Cruelty," a boy/man/child, autistic perhaps, time-obsessed, fixated on lunch-pack Chocolate Goldgrains, is accosted by a bully, perhaps a rapist, certainly "hyena," his safely circumscribed world forever fractured. Later, a sad group of ale fanciers makes a humorous and melancholy "Beer Trip to Llandudno." Irish lyricism shines throughout the collection. "Ernestine and Kit" opens so--"the world was fat on the blood of summer"--but relates a tale as black as a witch's heart. A kitchen steward, "black mass of backcombed hair and a graveyard pallor," fumbles into a double-dealing bombing plot in "The Mainland Campaign." A broken lover laments in "Wistful England," and Jameson whiskey–loving "Doctor Sot" finds drunken perceptions reflected by psychotic Mag, a traveler. An on-the-run drug dealer confronts the devil, twisted overseer of two sisters, eight wild children and chained feral dogs in "The Girls and the Dogs." A rattletrap "White Hitachi" van is home to Patrick, incompetent thief, intent upon saving his brother from "Castlerea prison, or the secure ward at the madhouse (many a Mullaney had bothered the same walls)." The title story is penultimate, a young artist, a cutter, from a fractured family seeks west Ireland solace. "Berlin Arkonaplatz--My Lesbian Summer" concludes the collection, Irish writer Patrick entrapped and enlightened by bohemian Silvija, "beautiful, foul-mouthed and inviolate." Winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, Barry writes stories that are character-driven, archetypical yet magnetic, pushing toward realism's edge where genre becomes irrelevant.
From the Publisher
“[Kevin Barry] isn’t sparing with his powers. Even his throwaway lines are keepers.” —The New York Times


“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.” ––Star Tribune (Minneapolis)


“Barry’s best short stories are like a spade to the face . . . [He] earns comparison with the great and shamefully neglected V. S. Pritchett, whose short stories also employed pronounced comic means for serious, compassionate ends.” ––The Guardian

“Outstanding . . . [These] stories triumph . . . They are funny, sad, troubling, illuminating, often in equal measure.” ––Financial Times

“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 thirteen stories, though it takes its different forms: vileness, foreboding, ignorance, isolation, self-delusion, despair.” ––The Boston Globe


“Barry is a prose wizard whose stories pulse on the page with all the humor and viciousness of life itself.” —Sam Lipsyte, The Millions


“[Kevin Barry’s] prose is almost literally indescribable . . . It’s not hard to see a devoted following accrue around this singular talent.” ––Irish Independent


“A startlingly unique voice.” ––The Observer (London)

The Barnes & Noble Review

There's a tendency in Irish letters to use the charismatic rhythm of Irish English as a dramatic figure in and of itself. Authors from J. M. Synge to Roddy Doyle have immersed readers in Hibernian slang, a style that would eventually be satirized by humorists like Paul Howard. In this collection of short stories, Dark Lies the Island, Kevin Barry — who won acclaim for his Beckettian gangster novel City of Bohane — displays a lighter touch in his approach to colloquial usage, reflecting an island that has undergone significant changes in the last two decades. These stories reveal an outward-looking country, a land of Japanese cars and pilgrimages to Berlin, more a doorway to the European common market than a windswept hinterland. The protagonist of the petty crime caper "White Hitachi" is called upon to "offload three hundred and fifty-nine DVDs," rather than run guns or rob banks. Though the locales and characters are mostly Irish, the pop culture references and technologies are global— as are the malaises of freakish weather and economic inequality.

Even accents converge in Barry's world, a fact acidly remarked upon by the narrator of the uproarious "Wifey Redux,? describing the voice of his daughter's boyfriend: "One of those horrible, mid- Atlantic twangs — these kids don't even sound fucking Irish anymore." Barry is happy to show more sides of Ireland than just the raw, hard-edged picture that has been sketched before by authors like Doyle and Patrick McCabe. "Across the Rooftops," the opening story of the collection, recounts a pair of hip Cork city residents — brought together by a shared fondness for Detroit techno — trying and failing to engineer a tryst with one another. Tales like "Wifey Redux" and the eponymous "Dark Lies the Island? paint a picture of a wealthy country, obsessed with material comfort, Internet culture and sex. Crime stories, like the aforementioned "White Hitachi" and "The Girls and the Dogs" are struck through with references to crystal meth and New Age experimentation. The rural pub scenes in "Fjords of Killary" were particularly resonant for me; Barry describes a drunken local couple pawing each other while "hoarsely yodeling an Alicia Keys love ballad," a scene identical to one into which I once stumbled while trying to buy whiskey for a younger friend in a remote town called Cloghane. For better or worse, this reminds me more of the countryside where I spent my teens than most other depictions I've read.

The collection is marked by Barry's playful style, whose central tension emerges through its contrast with the atmosphere of his stories' 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 Tóibín (a bright sky is "a pure white screech of sun" in "A Cruelty"), along with equal aptitude for Flann O'Brien's deadpan absurdity, describing crows who "stalked about importantly — like fascist birds" in the amiable yet chilling "Ernestine and Kit." The texture of Irish lives portrayed in this collection is familiar and truthful, even when the characters are larger and stranger than life.

Reviewer: Charles Reinhardt

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976514
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 832,644
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Barry is the author of the novel City of Bohane, winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the story collection There Are Little Kingdoms. He lives in County Sligo, Ireland.

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Customer Reviews

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