There’s a lot to like in this collection of stories: “Reading Kevin Barry’s collection is like finding a shiny two-pound coin in a pile of muck. It brings unexpected pleasure. Not just because he gives you priceless glimpses into the lives of individuals in a small Irish setting, but also because it’s one of these collections you literally cannot finish in one sitting. It sent me into spirals of associations, memories, and universal contemplations. Double-takes of pure aesthetic admiration of prose. And bleats of laughter at the scrapes his characters get into.”
I’d take issue with the following: “Barry’s power of description is awe-inspiring. Nothing soporific about it. It’s not sentimental, but it contains lushness. It makes you believe there are little kingdoms invisible to the eye.” This is just not the case. If it’s awe you want to be inspired to, might I suggest a host of authors who are not Kevin Barry.
The review goes on…
“If there’s anything to fault, it’s the light plotting hand Barry wields – often, these stories feel like character sketches; it leaves one craving – I would have liked to stay longer with any of them.”
Supposedly “a rewarding read for the prose aesthete” – speaking as one, this is not that. There is not a great deal to reward the prose aesthete here, apart from the odd turn of phrase which is beautiful – is this not reward enough? No.
There are bigger questions to be answered in relation to this collection: what are short stories (or novels) for these days, other than diverting the idle / the prose aesthete?
Well, there are other short stories that do far more than romanticize bleak alcoholic lives – which Barry can’t ever get far away from – there seems to be an effort to find the beauty in meaningless, hollow and hopeless lives, but only through romanticizing their unfortunate aspects, not by focusing on the more positive aspects, the moments of beauty or possibilities of hope. There are, however, a few places, where Barry’s stories go beyond mere narration, where they do something special, such as in ‘See The Tree: How big it’s Grown’, where Barry rubs against the wrongness of our sense of reality and the sheer strangeness of the passing of time – where his fiction actually does something: gives the reader a shake. All too often, his fiction reassures, softens and stifles – giving us what we already had – vague floppy sentimental notions.
Another interesting review by an always thoughtful reviewer here: