The second novel by IMPAC Dublin Literary Award-winning author Kevin Barry takes as its subject the Beatles’ John Lennon. The action falls in the middle of the five-year stretch where Lennon essentially retired from music, prior to his assassination. The story is set on the island Lennon purchased in Clew Bay, Co. Mayo in 1969, where he goes to practice some therapeutic primal screaming to try and alleviate his writer’s block. He brings Cornelius O’Grady along with him – and a funnier or more unscrupulous character in fiction there hasn’t been in ages.
Barry sets himself a difficult task in writing from Lennon’s own point of view; there isn’t a voice more popular or widely heard than his in history, and the familiarity of the speech patterns carries high levels of expectation. The author has Hiberno-English down, but it’s interesting to see just how closely evolved the dialect is with Liverpudlian (he feels it necessary to describe this linguistic research in the curious explanatory notes located in the middle of the book, but one could just as easily have assumed this based on the strength of his dialogue). Putting words in Lennon’s mouth is riveting for the most part; I only wonder at the decision to directly lyricise this chapter of his life towards the end of the book in a spoken-word track, which unsurprisingly fails to match Lennon’s songwriting power.
Words: Eoin Tierney