A searing, surreal novel that blends fantasy and reality—and Beatles fandom—from one of literature’s most striking contemporary voices, author of the international sensation City of Bohane
It is 1978, and John Lennon has escaped New York City to try to find the island off the west coast of Ireland he bought eleven years prior. Leaving behind domesticity, his approaching forties, his inability to create, and his memories of his parents, he sets off to calm his unquiet soul in the comfortable silence of isolation. But when he puts himself in the hands of a shape-shifting driver full of Irish charm and dark whimsy, what ensues can only be termed a magical mystery tour. Beatlebone is a tour de force of language and literary imagination that marries the most improbable elements to the most striking effect. It is a book that only Kevin Barry would attempt, let alone succeed in pulling off—a Hibernian high wire act of courage, nerve, and great beauty.
Kevin Barry is the author of the highly acclaimed novel City of Bohane and two short-story collections, Dark Lies the Island and There Are Little Kingdoms. He was awarded the Rooney Prize in 2007 and won the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award in 2012. For City of Bohane, he was short-listed for the Costa First Novel Award and the Irish Book Award, and won the Author’s Club Best First Novel Prize, the European Union Prize for Literature, and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere. He lives in County Sligo in Ireland.
Read an Excerpt
He sets out for the place as an animal might, as though on some fated migration. There is nothing rational about it nor even entirely sane and this is the great attraction. He’s been travelling half the night east and nobody has seen him—if you keep your eyes down, they can’t see you. Across the strung-out skies and through the eerie airports and now he sits in the back of the old Mercedes. His brain feels like a city centre and there is a strange tingling in the bones of his monkey feet. Fuck it. He will deal with it. The road unfurls as a black tongue and laps at the night. There’s something monkeyish, isn’t there, about his feet? Also his gums are bleeding. But he won’t worry about that now—he’ll worry about it in a bit. Save one for later. Trees and fields pass by in the grainy night. Monkeys on the fucking brain lately as a matter of fact. Anxiety? He hears a blue yonderly note from somewhere, perhaps it’s from within. Now the driver’s sombre eyes show up in the rearview—
It’s arranged, he says. There should be no bother whatsoever. But we could be talking an hour yet to the hotel out there?
Driver has a very smooth timbre, deep and trustworthy like a newscaster, the bass note and brown velvet of his voice, or the corduroy of it, and the great chunky old Merc cuts the air quiet as money as they move.
John is tired but not for sleeping.
No fucking pressmen, he says. And no fucking photogs.
In the near dark there is the sense of trees and fields and hills combining. The way that you can feel a world form around you on a lucky night in the springtime. He rolls the window an inch. He takes a lungful of cool starlight for a straightener. Blue and gasses. That’s lovely. He is tired as fuck but he cannot get his head down. It’s the Maytime—the air is thick with and tastes of it—and he’s all stirred up again.
Where the fuck are we, driver?
It’d be very hard to say. He quite likes this driver.
He stretches out his monkey toes. It’s the middle of the night and fucking nowhere. He sighs heavily—this starts out well enough but it turns quickly to a dull moaning. Not a handsome development. Driver’s up the rearview again. As though to say gather yourself. For a moment they watch each other gravely; the night moves. The driver has a high purple colour—madness or eczema—and his nose looks dead and he speaks now in a scolding hush:
That’s going to get you nowhere.
Driver tips the wheel, a soft glance; the road is turned. They are moving fast and west. Mountains climb the night sky. The cold stars travel. They are getting higher. The air changes all the while. By a scatter of woods there is a medieval scent. By a deserted house on a sudden turn there is an occult air. How to explain these fucking things? They come at last by the black gleaming sea and this place is so haunted
or at least it is for me
and there is a sadness, too, close in, like a damp and second skin. Out here the trees have been twisted and shaped by the wind into strange new guises—he can see witches, ghouls, creatures-of-nightwood, pouting banshees, cackling hoods.
It’s a night for the fucking bats, he says.
I beg your pardon?
What I mean to say is I’m going off my fucking bean back here.
That’s all you can be.
He lies back in his seat, pale and wakeful, chalk-white comedian; his sore bones and age. No peace, no sleep, no meaning. And the sea is out there and moving. He hears it drag on its cables—a slow, rusted swooning. Which is poetical, to a man in the dark hours, in his denim, and lonely—it moves him.
Driver turns, smiling sadly—
You’ve the look of a poor fella who’s caught up in himself.
What’s it’s on your mind?
Not easy to say.
Love, blood, fate, death, sex, the void, mother, father, cunt and prick—these are the things on his mind.
How many more times are they going to ask me to come on The fucking Muppet Show?
I just want to get to my island, he says.
He will spend three days alone on his island. That is all that he asks. That he might scream his fucking lungs out and scream the days into nights and scream to the stars by night—if stars there are and the stars come through.
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