Forethoughts: Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry

*Bounce* *Bounce* *Bounce* *Bounce* *Bounce* Why am I bouncing? Because I’m excited. Why am I excited? Because sitting in front of me is Irish short fiction legend Kevin Barry’s latest short story collection, Dark Lies the Island (Jonathan Cape), and methinks that’s reason enough to be banging my head on the ceiling. 🙂

Regulars of RobAroundBooks and my ‘followers’ on Twitter will of course know how much I bang on about Kevin Barry, so you’ll all know the reason for my restless excitement. But for the rest of you here’s a quick history:

I first came across Kevin Barry during the summer of 2010 when I set about reading something of his 2007 debut collection, There Are Little Kingdoms (Stinging Fly Press), in preparation for an event he was attending at EdBookFest, with Simon Van Booy. Having never read Barry up to that point, I’ll admit that I was mainly going to that event for Van Booy, but it turned out that the event was made 100% better by the presence of Kevin Barry.

Van Booy captivated me in that event as I thought he would, but the moment I heard Barry read I knew there was something special about him. He electrified the audience with an energetic and colourful reading and it was clear that he lives for telling stories. You can read my report on that 2010 event HERE)

I’ve since seen Barry perform two more times since that 2010 event, and both times he’s held me with the same grip; holding me on the spot with the power of his storytelling. Kevin Barry is theatrical and passionate, and he was born to perform.

Of course we’re not really interested here in Barry’s performance on the stage, are we? As good as his eventing may be we’re far more concerned with talking about short stories. However, I believe that both are intrinsically linked. How can one bring a story so colourfully to life in real life if the story itself is grey and bland? Impossible of course, and since immersing myself in his short fiction I’ve come to realise that Barry’s stories are as enriched and as colourful as the man himself. His stories always read as though they are being performed – with pace and with rhythm – and truth be told I’ve yet to come across a bad one. I won’t bore you with the details though, just head on over and read my afterthoughts on There are Little Kingdoms, where you’ll find many of my opinions on the short stories of Kevin Barry.

Now, are you beginning to see why I might be just a little excited about Kevin Barry’s latest short story collection? *grins* Before I go on and bounce some more though, I’d like to share the cover blurb for Dark Lies the Island:

A kiss that just won’t happen. A disco at the end of the world. A teenage goth on a terror mission. And OAP kiddie-snatchers, and Scouse real-ale enthusiasts, and occult weirdness in the backwoods…

Dark Lies the Island is a collection of unpredictable stories about love and cruelty, crimes, desperation, and hope from the man Irvine Welsh has described as ‘the most arresting and original writer to emerge from these islands in years’. Every page is shot through with the riotous humour, sympathy and blistering language that mark Kevin Barry as a pure entertainer and a unique teller of tales.

That’s the blurb for Dark Lies the Island and I’ll say that I found nothing surprising in that. Barry’s stories are eclectic to say the least, and he populates them with the most intriguing of marginal characters (usually Irish), and in the most glorious of settings (usually Ireland). He’s a master of humour and of dialogue, and of place and of character, and it seems to me that this collection is more of the same, which is absolutely no bad thing.

As excited as I am, I’ve got admit that I’m also somewhat anxious heading in to Dark Lies the Island, because I’m worried that I may have set my expectations too high. That said, I’m somewhat calmed knowing that Barry’s Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award winning story Beer Trip to Llandudno is included (you can read my review of that story HERE), because I already know what a spectacular story this is, and if the other 12 stories in the collection only measure up to being half as good then I know I’m not going to be disappointed.

Normally in a forethoughts post this is the point when I’d tell you something about the author, but as I’ve already written a ton of stuff about Kevin Barry on RobAroundBooks already, I should probably point you to that. Perhaps the best place to head over to first is my forethoughts post for There Are Little Kingdoms, where there’s a short bio on Barry, and a handful of related links. You may also like to check in on my EdBookFest diary entries from last year (HERE and HERE) where I talk manically about meeting the man (and his wife, as it happens :)). More recently, Barry of course won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, and HERE I discuss Barry’s potential for wining the prize. Finally, the morning after the night before, and HERE the Booktrust’s Nikesh Shukla interviews Kevin Barry on his most deserving win. Right, that should be enough to keep you busy for now.

So enough talking, it’s time to dive in to Dark Lies the Island, and let it be known that I intend to review the book in the same way that I review all short story collections/ anthologies ie. story-by-story before returning with my final afterthoughts on the collection as a whole. Below you will see the contents of Dark Lies the Island, and as I progress I’ll link to the individual reviews.

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:: Contents of Dark Lies the Island ::
(links lead to individual reviews of each story, when posted)

Jonathan Cape | 5th April 2012 | £12.99 | PAPERBACK | 199 PP | ISBN: 9780224090582

A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.

Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)