Friday, October 18, 2019

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry: A review

So, this book calls to mind Beckett's Waiting for Godot. It's all about the waiting. Waiting for someone who never comes.

The book actually reads more like a play than a novel. Reading it is a bit of a confusing slog at times because of the format. I'm not sure why some modern writers seem to have a prejudice against quotation marks, but apparently, Kevin Barry is one of them. It is not always possible to understand (without digging) just who is speaking and it isn't always clear at first that someone is speaking. In my opinion, that just makes the reading unnecessarily hard work and it annoyed me.

Apparently, it didn't annoy the Booker Prize jurors who put it on the long list for this year's award. One can see why I suppose. The language of the novel at times rises to lyrical heights and its two curmudgeonly main characters are interesting. These are the type of male characters that a certain kind of male writer seems to love to write about. Elmore Leonard and Jim Harrison come to mind and it would seem that Barry is one of their tribe. 

Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond are aging Irish criminals who have long been partners in the smuggling of drugs. They are now, on the night of October 23, 2018, in the story, sitting in the waiting room of a ferry terminal in the seedy Spanish port of Algeciras. They are waiting for Maurice's estranged daughter (or is she Charlie's?) Dilly. They believe she will be arriving there tonight either coming from or going to Tangier. They haven't seen her in three years but believe (we never learn why) that she may now be a part of a group of Rastafarians. They are looking for a girl with dreadlocks.

While they wait, they meet various young dreadlocked people whom they try to interrogate about Dilly and they reminisce about their past and about Dilly's mother, Maurice's ex-wife Cynthia. Their past includes drug deals gone bad, knife fights, and (perhaps) cuckolding. But the world which they knew has changed and they no longer fit in. Barry describes them thusly:
The money no longer is in dope. The money now is in people. The Mediterranean is a sea of slaves. The years have turned and left Maurice and Charlie behind. The men are elegiacal, woeful, heavy in the bones.
That paints a perfect picture of these two doleful characters.

By perhaps halfway through the book, I guess I got more used to its format and I was able to enjoy the story and the characters a bit more, but still I found it hard going.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

7 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more about quotation marks. It is truly irritating when you have figure who is speaking, and whether it is dialogue or not.

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    1. I've never understood why some writers choose not to use standard grammatical indicators. It just seems like an affectation to me.

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  2. Well I am glad you got some enjoyment by the end.

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    1. In thinking about the book later, I realized that I had probably enjoyed it more than I thought while I was struggling with it. Does that make sense?

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    2. Makes complete sense and happens to me all the time!

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  3. Sometimes authors play with grammatical rules to "appear" different. It seems that, while you liked it, you did not find enough to love in this novel.

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    1. I find I'm liking it better in retrospect than I did while I was reading it.

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