Nothing at all like Barry's award-winning debut novel, this may be a risky follow-up, but it’s intriguing at every turn, and...

BEATLEBONE

A famous musician’s 1978 pilgrimage to an island off the west coast of Ireland takes several detours, abetted by his memories and his minder, in this original, lyrical, genre-challenging work.

Barry set his remarkable first novel, City of Bohane (2011), some 40 years in the future. Here, he looks back almost 40 years as he imagines a 37-year-old John Lennon hoping he can cure a creative block with a few days alone on the tiny island he owns. When he arrives in western Ireland, he learns that reporters are in pursuit, and he struggles to dodge them with the help of his driver/facilitator, Cornelius, who stashes him at one point in the strange Amethyst Hotel. There, John, a veteran of primal scream therapy, encounters people who believe screaming and ranting at one another is good for the soul and psyche. In the course of this miniodyssey, John’s mind wends through his past, growing up in Liverpool, a girlfriend named Julia, and his Irish antecedents. He has brilliant, funny, almost musical dialogue with Cornelius. Then, after 200 pages, the author/narrator breaks in and explains how he has tried “to spring a story” from some historical facts. He also retraces what might have been John’s steps, including poking through the now-ruined Amethyst. A photograph of the hotel printed on one page suggests W.G. Sebald and the porous membrane between fiction and reality. The closing section features more delightful dialogue, now between John and his recording engineer, before the musician breaks into a Molly Bloom–esque monologue, complete with a lilting last line about “a sadness” in his mother’s voice “that tells me the way that time moves and summer soon across the trees will spin its green strands.”

Nothing at all like Barry's award-winning debut novel, this may be a risky follow-up, but it’s intriguing at every turn, and Barry’s prose can be as mesmerizing as some of his hero’s songs.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-54029-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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