Beatlebone, Kevin Barry
Review by Jordan Ogg
In 1967 the most famous singer in the world bought Dorinish, a small cleft of rock in Clew Bay off the West coast of Ireland. John Lennon had been trying to acquire an island of his own for some time, so he would have been pleased to finally secure the object of his desire. What he probably did not consider were the difficulties in trying to access, never mind attempt to live on, his tiny and brutally exposed new possession.
Beatlebone is a very late-twentieth century rendition of the traditional adventure romance. Our hero, John, is trying to reach his island for a three day solo screaming session. Projected through a shaken kaleidoscope of sixties mania, Barry's tale recalls the half-baked hippy ethos of the good life and the rise of the alternative therapy movement. That the action takes place amid a weathered rural location, in places where the oddities of modern life have not bothered to visit, adds a well-wrought aspect of the absurd to this already bizarre tale.
John’s wit-laced brogue frazzles against the sardonic wisdom of the local folk he encounters. All he wants to do is reach his island, and quickly. But no one else is in a hurry. His affable driver just wants to get him drunk. Other characters, including a laconic dog named Brian Wilson, are not up for much either. Then come the manic occupants of the Amethyst hotel, whose intent towards the singer is, despite their best or perhaps worse intentions, far from felicitous.
As if this were not enough, poor John is being chased from all corners. “Press men” are hot on his heals, kicking up dust against the tracks of his own demons: remembrances of his youth in Liverpool, a search for the roots of his Irish ancestors, the cosy yet suffocating lilt of fatherhood he has left behind in New York and, to add to it all, a creative lull.
It is a rambunctious mix which Barry works to dazzling effect. Early on John finds a town “deserted as a war-time beach.” Later, nearing his island, “seabirds hover watchfully with their mad eyes, all wingspan and homicide.”
“Windfucked” is another memorable line from our hero, and one that just about sums up this fine take on a most strange true story. A real treat for Beatles and island fans alike.
Beatlebone is available in hardback and will be published in paperback later this year. Read an extract on the Canongate website.