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Night Boat to Tangier

Literary prize longlists – Kevin Barry has many of them. Long lists of literary prizes that is.

He is the winner of the Impac Dublin Literary Award and the Goldsmith prize. He has a Rooney Prize under his belt, as well as the European Prize for Literature.

And now he has been longlisted for the Booker Prize.

The Limerick man is known for a selection of books - Beatlebone, City of Bohane and his most recent work, Night Boat to Tangier.

When I read Night Boat to Tangier, it reminded me a little of Waiting for Godot. It seemed to me a tragicomedy about two people waiting the arrival of someone. It turns out that the beginnings of this project was in a commission for the Abbey Theatre, so the echoes of Beckett are no surprise.

The novel is about two people, waiting for someone who may or may not turn up.

This someone is Dilly, or Dil, a young girl, a pretty girl. Goes by the name of Dilly. Or Dil.

Maurice and Charlie are aging, Irish gangsters in the port of Algeciras awaiting the night boat and the potential of Dilly. Or Dil. A young girl. A pretty girl.

They sit and reminisce, the weave of comedy and menace in the text a skill that Barry has in abundance.

The prose soaks off the page in measured waves, paced for impact or for a sweet lull. There are times when the writing is beautiful, surprisingly delicate but the undertones of violence are ever-present.

The interesting thing about Night Boat to Tangier is not necessarily the phrases or expressions that Kevin Barry writes, but more, the delicate balance between white space on the page, the balance in the things he does not write.

The novel has some wonderful expressions, atmosphere taut, built with words, constructed on scaffold of sentences. This book brings us to a special place, to a port, awaiting the night boat. It is a place to explore the weaknesses of criminals who long for money and power and sex and all the things that we expect criminals to long for.

‘The cold white moon speaks highly of the coming winter.’

And perhaps somewhere in amongst the criminality and menace, we might recognise something familiar? Something human. A want or longing within ourselves. Perhaps.

The shortlist for the Booker Prize is announced on September 3rd. Who will you be reading for?

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry.

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