Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
When asked to set the scene for “Beatlebone,” his second novel, Kevin Barry said: “John Lennon is trying to get to the tiny island he owns in Clew Bay, off the coast of County Mayo, in 1978, while he is in the midst of an existential crisis about the nature of creativity.”
Barry continued: “There is a talking seal, a 112-year-old woman, many visits to demonic pubs and strange hotels, and an investigation into the benefits of primal scream therapy. It’s about as sane a project as it sounds.”
On Nov. 11, it was announced as this year’s winner of the Goldsmiths Prize, which is open to novels by British or Irish citizens published in the UK. The £10,000 prize “celebrates daring” and “rewards fiction that breaks the mold or opens up new possibilities for the novel form.”
In 2013, Barry’s first, “City of Bohane,” picked up one of the world’s richest literary prizes, the €100,000 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
In the New York Times review, Pete Hamill, said the Limerick-born writer’s first novel was “full of marvels. They are all literary marvels, of course: marvels of language, invention, surprise. Savage brutality is here, but so is laughter. And humanity. And the abiding ache of tragedy.”
“Beatlebone” won praise two weeks ago in the same publication. Times reviewer Steve Earle said: “It all hangs together perfectly to form the kind of next-level literature that inspires, even incites another generation of natural-born wordsmiths to write big and bold and put in the work it takes to become a beast. You see the trick of it? No fear.”
What is your writing routine?
I scrape myself out of the bed about nine, curse the County Sligo rain, make ferociously strong espresso, and disappear into my writing shed out the back of the house for about four hours. I’m not actually writing all that time – mostly I’m drooling, staring out the window, weeping, curling up into a fetal ball on the couch, and so forth. Four years of that and you have a book at the end of it.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Law school. Sorry – try to finish everything you start, and remember that first drafts are almost always drivel.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte threw me up against the wall when I was 10 years old and made me realize what a book could do – it made me realize that a book is a mode of transport. “Underworld” by Don DeLillo showed me the size of the mountain and showed me what sentences could do. “2666” by Roberto Bolano proved that the novel can still do almost anything.
What book are you currently reading?
“Outline” by Rachel Cusk – a brilliant and original novel from a writer of bewitchingly calm precision.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
“50 Shades Of Grey.”
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Apparently, Beckett was a great man to go for a few drinks with. A laugh-a-minute type. Seriously. And a very kind man also.
What book changed your life?
Every time I go back to James Joyce’s “Dubliners” I get more and more from it. It’s a very different book at 45 than it is when you’re 32 or when you’re 24. And I think this is the mark of a great book – it’s a book that reveals fresh depths and insights on every reading. He was 23 when he wrote most of these stories, which is soul-destroying.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Wow – we could be here for the day. I live in an old police station near Lough Arrow in County Sligo, and Arrow is a beautiful lake, eerily radiant in the perpetual drizzle. It seems to refract what little light there is on the grey days. There’s a little peninsula that juts out into it called Annaghloy – it’s just about a mile or so long, a few hundred yards wide – and I think it might be quietest place in Ireland. I cycle there often and just hang out with the kingfishers and the dragonflies.