Extravagant praise for Kevin Barry’s new novel ‘Beatlebone’

Lennon pic

WINNER OF THE GOLDSMITHS PRIZE 2015
SHORTLISTED FOR IRISH NOVEL OF THE YEAR 2015

Read Kevin’s interview in Slate here.

‘In razor-sharp prose, Barry’s novel imagines John Lennon in 1978, on a journey through the west of Ireland in search of his creative self, conversing with an Irish driver’
New York Times 100 Notable Books 2015

‘Only a literary beast, a daredevil wholly convinced he was put on this planet to write, would ever or should ever attempt to cast a person as iconic as John Lennon as a character in a tale of his own invention. Kevin Barry is that beast. .. Books like this come along once in a generation, books by writers with real chops, who haven’t yet been discouraged from taking real chances and blurring the lines between disciplines. Barry employs every tool in his formidable toolbox – razor-sharp prose, powerful poetics and a dramatist’s approach to dialogue unencumbered by punctuation. .. And it works. 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.’
Steve Earle, The New York Times Book Review

‘Casually lyrical, formally inventive, funny and moving, [Beatlebone] is a small wonder. .. As ever with Barry, the dialogue is a joy, tapping into a rich vein of humorous melancholy. .. You have to be a very good writer to reveal the puppet master at work and still keep the puppets themselves looking lifelike, but Barry makes it work. .. to make Lennon convincing on the page – charming and funny, spiky and vulnerable – is a particular achievement.’
Theo Tait, Sunday Times

‘One of this novel’s great achievements is Barry’s representation of the twisting, hysterical difficulty of the creative process, reflected in the novel’s own play on forms. .. Beatlebone .. is a profound, mad and intriguing novel. Too often, novels about great artists shy away from attending to those very creative processes that made them great. Beatlebone is a committed, brutal portrait.’
Tom Williams, Literary Review

‘Mingling surreal black humour and breakdown, Beatlebone is a wild cascade of language and imagery, rich in wordplay and referential resonance. Beneath the glittering surface Barry is giving us a vanities on fame and celebrity. Remember the date is 1978. The real-life endgame will be played out very soon.’
Lee Langley, The Spectator

‘[Beatlebone is] a gloriously freewheeling tale imagining an attempt by John Lennon to visit the island he had bought off the coast of Mayo in 1967. .. Barry weaves his own odyssey to “Beatle Island” into a tale of fame, freaks, bad liquor and bad weather, with Lennon – angry, brilliant, sarcastic, tender, on a doomed quest for artistic release and his Irish roots – at its centre.’
Justine Jordan, The Guardian

‘.. superb .. This is stray sod country. There is temporal slippage. The roads double back on themselves. The psychic wayposts are dank hotels in Newport and Mulrany, the Highwood bar and the Amethyst hotel. Cars break down or don’t turn up. Boats spring leaks. Epic drinking sessions convene at midnight. Shamanistic asides are uttered. Ray Lynam sings country on the eight-track and hard-bitten Fleet Street journos comb the country for Lennon. Cornelius keeps Lennon one step ahead of the red-top press, but the island remains just over the horizon. … Barry’s pages are laid out in unindented paragraphs, double spaced, with minimal punctuation. It’s a spare and elegant technique that brings structural rigour to the book. The complexity and beauty of the language are counterpointed and boundaried by the honed-down structure. … Beatlebone is a novel of necessary invention: profound, funny, hard to pin down. The demanding spirit of Dermot Healy is abroad in these pages, but the execution is all Barry’s own. He doesn’t fail. As Cornelius says of Ray Lynam, he holds the note. He wouldn’t be found looking for it.’
Eoin McNamee, Irish Times

‘Kevin Barry writes the best sentences in English and his new novel, Beatlebone, is outrageously good – better even than his massively well-regarded and awarded (and excellent) debut novel City of Bohane. .. At the book’s start Lennon’s in a car being driven by a magnificent trickster we’ll come to know is Cornelius; page one is the first taste of the glory of Barry’s sentences: “He hears a blue yonderly note from somewhere, perhaps it’s from within.” Go ahead and substitute parenthetical exclamation marks at the end of that in your mind’s margin: That’s the sort of writer Barry is, dropping yonderly to describe a note and pausing not at all.’
Weston Cutter, The Brooklyn Rail

‘John’s inner voice feels spot-on: dry, scabrous, Scouse. Paragraphs are short, often single sentences, and separated by white space. Dialogue, without speech marks, occupies the same level as thought. The effect is of a restless mind in constant argument with itself and others. Barry wisely balances John’s introspection with plenty of picaresque action instigated by his Irish driver, Cornelius O’Grady … this is a quest story by way of Godot as John’s trip is endlessly postponed. … Barry is an excellent writer of dialogue, skilled at establishing characters quickly, and accordingly he writes some of the best pub scenes in the language, hilarious cacophonies of egos clamouring for attention. … sentences are familiar — incantatory, baroque, with the river of the Irish canon running through them. ” … Beatlebone is a rule-breaking novel, a strange and fascinating look at the mystery of creative inspiration.’
Luke Brown, Financial Times

‘Sentence for sentence, Barry writes some of the finest prose of anyone currently writing in English. It can be mordantly funny, .. It will turn to elegy, with profound psychological insight in only a few lines .. The imagery is superlative .. In a way, the novel’s strain of utter filthiness serves to cut across the parts that might, in other hands, have seemed fey. .. Beatlebone is a magnificent piece of work. For all its pyrotechnic language and philosophical depth (and riotous comedy) it never stops being about a man struggling with loveless childhood and the superficial adoration of celebrity. Dr Jakov’s theory is that screaming can release the pent up aggressions of the hurt child, and to that extent, Beatlebone is a long, lyrical and cathartic scream of itself.’
Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

‘Whether he’s alone or in the company of his fixer, Cornelius, there is always a sense, pungently conveyed in bold, frequently hilarious prose, of John being out of step with the world. Very often – exhaustingly so, on occasion – he is simply trying to understand what is in front of him. … John’s quest isn’t about blocked creativity, however. It is about his mother, Julia, who died when he was 17. Her death became “his dark star” and Barry understands that some of Lennon’s greatest songs (“Help”, “Julia”, “Mother”) draw their power from a vulnerability rooted in this complicated and foreshortened mother-son relationship. …  In one of the book’s nine sections … Barry yanks us out of the novel with an essay about how he researched it. The essay is part travelogue, part memoir, part countercultural history, the style W G Sebald by way of Hunter S Thompson. The effect is stunning … This interlude, a “making of” that is the making of the novel, exposes the author’s vulnerability … Similarly, in naming Beatlebone after a fictional lost (and unlistenable) Lennon album, Barry implicitly concedes that his experimental approach might fail, too. By putting these elements at the book’s heart – and surrounding them with passages of, by turns, bravura, euphoric and acerbic writing – Beatlebone comes to embody its subject’s personality… As an account of the failure to lay memories to rest and the maddening, thrilling power of making and doing, Beatlebone is an electrifying success.’
Chris Power, New Statesman

‘As ever, Barry’s writing is a joy: full of bad weather and bad language, black humour and striking images … As Barry follows John’s strange journey, the boundaries between fact and fiction, author and subject, past and present morph. Dark, trippy and comic, Beatlebone is a heady exploration of creativity and identity.’
Francesca Wade, The Telegraph

‘a psychological exploration set against a beautifully rendered backdrop of turbulent skies, seas, hills and west-of-Ireland weather .. a darkly wry novel .. the writing is original, exact and telling.’
Edward Docx, The Guardian

‘I think Kevin Barry is two kinds, if not three kinds, of a genius .. wonderful storytelling’ ‘enormously cinematic’
Tom Sutcliffe et al, R4 Saturday Review

‘The hallmark of Mr. Barry’s previous fiction has been his remarkable gift as a stylist; .. ‘Beatlebone’ is far more profound. Mr. Barry’s language is still poetic and reaching and imaginative, but now in effortless service to more substantial themes, … perhaps what ultimately makes this a great novel is its author’s exploration of the ways that sometimes, in art, we do get to become each other – kind of.’
Charles Finch, New York Times

‘No author should be able to get away with so woolly an excursion into meta-land, not at such length or so flittingly. But Barry somehow does… I went along with it, even while cocking an eyebrow, because Barry writes with such zest… there’s music to Barry’s prose: Smart rhythms dart through his sentences; taut bridges join his paragraphs; the tinge of hysteria serves to animate his characters and their surroundings. His dialogue is whimsical, sometimes hilarious, catching the idiom of the local life, and, in Beatlebone, nailing John Lennon, the wittiest and darkest Beatle, spot on.’ Fred Kaplan, Slate

‘Closer in spirit to Barry’s short stories, Beatlebone is glorious, savoury stuff – part lark, part meditation and a tiny part excavation. Lennon really did buy an Irish island called Dorinish; you can look it up. … The sojourn Barry imagines for [Lennon] never strays far from the existential murk, and the book can get a little messy. But it’s also funny, profane, and so shrewd in its understanding of the pitiable human condition that it may just knock you sideways.’
Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe

“Hallucinatory and beautiful, the language Barry employs to reveal Lennon’s inner torment makes Beatlebone much more than just a work of fan fiction … [Beatlebone] reads as brilliant liner notes for a nervous breakdown, a hip, alternative history for Lennon’s lost years. We know John never made a sea-mammal inspired album. We are all too well aware that Mark David Chapman is waiting in the wings. We realize the ‘John Lennon’ in Barry’s book is a confection, a creation, a sleight of hand. Yet somehow readers may feel they are getting close to the real flesh and blood human.”
Jean Zimmerman, NPR.org

“Beatlebone is no small miracle. We come to know a new Lennon, one that is neither a caricature nor a sketch, but a character in whom we can believe … A strange book whose compact, abundant wonders never feel like tricks. It’s up to you to decide if the talking seal is real.”
Gregg LaGambina, The Onion’s A.V. Club

“Barry’s prose is at once dreamy and direct, ethereal and grounded. His sentences tend toward the quick and powerful, but the subject matter can remain an enticing mystery.”
Eric Swedlund, Paste Magazine

“Beatlebone’s peripatetic wanderings, its occasional departure from prose into play script, and its embrace of neologisms — including one from the seal, who talks about “deathhauntedness” — feel more than a little Joycean. The difference … is that Barry is having loads more fun — and he is (see: talking seal) but he’s also not (see: seal talking about deathhauntedness). For all its playfulness, Beatlebone turns out to be as spooky a ghost story as they come, with ghosts haunted by ghosts.”
Liam Callanan, San Francisco Chronicle

‘Beatlebone is an odyssey of the mind. Its ever-shifting modes vividly recall James Joyce’s Ulysses .. The island simply represents an idea. What’s at stake in his getting to the island? We never really know, which is a tricky feat to pull off. Barry succeeds by parsing John’s limbo state so clearly and vividly.’
Josh Cook, Minneapolis Star Tribune

‘A strange and brilliant experiment into showing your working. It’s thematically dense yet supremely readable’
Anthony Cummins, Metro

‘Kevin Barry’s clean yet imaginative prose seamlessly puts the reader into the mind of a complex figure in the midst of a creative dry patch .. It’s a must for Beatles fans, and even more so for fans of inventive, meticulously crafted contemporary literature.’
The List

‘mesmerising, luxuriant and vivid’
Irish News (Belfast)

‘a magical mystery tour’
RTE Guide

‘The man’s a linguistic genius. There’s an abundance of heart here; this isn’t an exercise in literary cartwheeling, but a loving exploration of creativity and its paranoia and anxiety and euphoria. Beatlebone is a showcase for Barry’s innovation, rhythm and overall mastery of language, his feel for place, his analyses of self-expression and creative production.’
Valerie O’Riordan, Bookmunch

‘Accompanied by the garrulous Cornelius O’Grady, Lennon gets involved in an epic drinking session, stays in strange hotels and observes the strange beauty of nature in a landscape that makes ‘people go strange out here, John’ in Barry’s odd, lyrical odyssey’
Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express

‘an increasingly interesting re-creation – lively, vivid and bold, and one that can happily include an insert about the author’s research. Lennon would have loved it.’
Daily Mail

‘Barry’s language is mesmerising .. there are passages that astound, and the book is shot through with humour and melancholy.’
Associated Press

‘a fascinating read .. as John tries to find himself, we find John .. and we begin to find ourselves, the story provoking thoughts of materialism or unchecked ego.’
Brian Beacom, Sunday Herald

‘it’s a marvel that this unholy mash-up of modernist prose poetry, radio drama, essay and portrait of the artist John Lennon as a struggling 37-year-old man not only coheres but makes for a genuinely thrilling piece of work.’
Tom Gatti, New Statesman Books of the Year

‘Rich and lyrical, unnerving and insightful .. it stays with you long after you’ve finished the last page’
Eimear McBride, New Statesman Books of the Year

‘… [T]his glorious lark feels canonical’
Boris Kachka, New York Magazine

‘So while looking out of his window at the clouds and bogs of Ireland’s County Sligo, [Kevin Barry] crafted the story of a fictional visit by John Lennon to a nearby island in 1978. ‘Beatlebone’ .. is based on real life events, modelled on Don Quixote, and nearly as wild and messy as The White Album. It’s also improbably good.’
Mike Doherty, National Post

‘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 … 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.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

”Barry, a great poet of a novelist … has created an unusual novel, remarkable in structure as well as tone, that channels the contradictory nature of Lennon himself.’ 
Booklist (Starred Review)

‘Beautiful: half prose, half song … reminding us how writing merges memory and imagination to connect the living and the dead.’
Publishers Weekly

‘Highly ambitious, hilarious, and a masterstroke in using the great soup of the English language – with all its profanities, desires and anxieties in tow – Beatlebone is Barry’s most mature and sophisticated work of fiction to date.’
JP O’Malley, Sunday Independent (Ireland)

‘Telling much of the story through dialogue, Barry creates a voice for Lennon that rings authentic while somehow also feeling completely original; placing that voice among those of ordinary people who place a Beatle on no special pedestal makes for endless comic and dramatic tension, all of it added a layer of poignance by our knowledge that the John who comes alive in these pages was not long for this world.’
Ian McGillis, Montreal Gazette

‘The Lennon of these pages is ghostly, alive in the apercu, slipping through the fog and empty stretches of sea. The landscape, islands off the coast of Ireland, mostly uninhabited, is sublime: vacated, hallowed and harsh, wind-scraped. There are hippies and cocaine and scream therapy becomes an extreme sport involving insults and sexual taunting; haunting and hunting. Paranoia and false-footed intimacies. Drinking that leaves Lennon spewing on the side of the road in the early dawn, spiritually enlivened. … Barry is a supreme stylist; he makes sure you can’t guess what’s coming in the next page, or paragraph or sentence. Every word is fresh. This is textured writing, aware of the cadence of a phrase, dialect-canny, full of vivid imagery, and there is an unrestrained lust for language. .. Along with his contemporary Irish writers Edna O’Brien and Anne Enright, Barry puts the spoken word on the page. You hear it, rather than read it. It has a musicality.’
Lisa Moore, The Globe & Mail

‘Kevin Barry’s strange and touching Beatlebone brilliantly imagines a dreamlike road trip to the west of Ireland in 1978 by a hunted and haunted John Lennon.’
Sam Mendes, Observer Books of the Year

‘Beatlebone by Kevin Barry is cracking stuff. John Lennon and Primal Screaming in County Mayo.’
Mark Haddon

‘Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone is a strange, intense and slightly incoherent extended fantasy about two months that John Lennon spent in Ireland in 1978, fleeing an invasive press while searching for sanctuary on a remote island he had purchased on a whim. As unlikely as this premise seems, Barry is largely able to carry it off by force of imagination and by a super-charged prose style .. It is partly [the] sense of doom postponed, but never completely forestalled, that gives Beatlebone its peculiar beauty.’
Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post

‘Beatlebone is a perfect novel for someone who loves good fiction, or who wants to dive into the human condition, or any Beatles fan’
Anders Carlson, The Kansas City Star

‘Barry consistently gets the voices right in Beatlebone, much of it presented through dialogue that unspools on the page like a play script and proves Cornelius’ point: Even if one can only see 10% of what’s out there, one can hear everything. If one knows how to listen. ‘Do you think you can hear him still?’ Barry asks us, early on. After finishing this terrific novel, my answer is a resounding, life-affirming ‘yes’’
Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

‘[Beatlebone] is a bizarre, fragmented and linguistically inventive imagining of John Lennon’s trip to the island he owned off County Mayo for three days of ‘scream therapy’.’
Alex Preston, The Observer ‘The best novels of 2015’

‘Soaked in liquor and sarcasm, bad weather and self-doubt, [Beatlebone] is spooky, profound and extravagantly enjoyable: a record and a reminder of the fact that the wildest journeys are the inner ones.’
Justine Jordan, The Guardian ‘The best fiction of 2015’

‘“The examined life turns out to be a pain in the stones”, Lennon says near the end of Beatlebone. But Barry’s keenly worded quest is worth the trip’
Heather Scott Partington, Las Vegas Weekly

‘The real joy for me comes when Lennon meets up with his driver/minder for his time on Ireland’s west coast called Cornelius. Long patches of dialogue between the paid float around the pages but express the wit and charm of two acerbic, quick-witted people enjoying being in each others company … The banter and philosophical discussions between the pair are a joy to read’
P.K. Stowers, The New Zealand Herald

‘This reader – almost a Boomer – was won over by the title immediately and had to tamp down enthusiasm for the topic and the author for fear of going into it with hippie bias. No need. It’s an engrossing read, as Barry plunks us down in the iconic Beatle’s head, and imagines Lennon’s (fictional) attempt to return to Dorinish Island .. in 1978. In the process he also dares us to admit how much we savour Lennon’s mythology.’
Joanne Latimer, Maclean’s

‘Beatlebone is a thoroughgoing delight sentence by sentence and chapter by chapter. The language is thrilling, electric, and darkly comic .. and many of the set pieces are incredibly impressive.’
James Bradley, The Australian

‘This spirit of transgression animates Beatlebone, the fascinating second novel by Irish writer Kevin Barry. Equal parts biography, historical fiction and investigative journalism, it takes as it’s subject one of most divisive figures of popular culture – John Lennon. .. the fact that Barry .. was able to able to execute the audacious conceit of his book is certainly something to applaud.’
Dominic Amerena, The Sydney Morning Herald

 

Read Kevin’s interview in Electric Literature here.

Read Kevin’s interview in The Observer here.

Read Kevin’s interview in The Daily Beast here.

Read Kevin’s interview in Literary Hub here.

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