Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Guest Post by Ben Healey on Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry

A Great Guest post by Ben Healey 
curator of

The Typists Pen
The Irish Quarter:  A Salute to the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1

A Great Source of Reviews on Irish Short Stories and More

Dark Lies The Island – Kevin Barry

Dark Lies The Island is Kevin Barry’s second short story collection, his first being There Are Little Kingdoms (2007). In some ways Dark Lies The Island seems somewhat like a natural extension of There Are Little Kingdoms, particularly when it comes to the opening story in the collection – Across The Rooftops. The reader could be forgiven for thinking that it is a continuation, or perhaps another sub plot of Party at Helen’s from Kingdoms. It is a nice introductory story about the coming of age and a kiss that just doesn’t seem like it is going to happen, but it eventually does, though its importance lessening as the narrator grows older and looks out over the city of Cork’s landscape.

The second story Wifey Redux gives its theme away in the title, with the narrator fearing the new found sexuality of his daughter, Barry cleverly and confusingly for the narrator linking it to the narrators wife’s own sexuality in her youth. One of the more commonly known stories in the collection is Fjord of Killary with its theme of acceptance and time, and again Barry very cleverly giving the story several time motifs to assist the theme, as well as utilising an otter to get across the point of the energy and sexuality of the female. Sexuality is a recurring theme in Dark Lies The Island and can be seen in several other stories in the collection, notably in The Girls and The Dogs and the element of control, and in Berlin Arkonaplatz – My Lesbian Summer, where sexuality is combined with the theme of education.

Barry can be sensitive too, and nowhere can this be seen stronger than in A Cruelty and the title story of the collection. A Cruelty deals with the day of a mildly mentally disabled boy who is bullied by a complete stranger and has his day put out of synchronisation, something that is important to the boy. Barry tends to stick with the motif of time giving it the same emphasis and importance that the characters do. Time and routine are important. A Cruelty is in no doubt one of the more human, and touching stories of the collection. The title story really is a powerful piece of writing too, and tells of a young seventeen year old girl who self-harms. It is one of the easier stories to understand regards literary technique, though it may seem the theme (self-harm) is unfathomable to some. Barry leads the reader through the darkness, quite literally, and highlights that though communication is necessary, communication in itself has its limitations. He exposes this by use of the characters lack of a broadband connection, the text from her mother when a phone call would be more appropriate, and in the call from her father that she hangs up on, also the use of the Internet chat rooms ironically depersonalizing the girl. She is alone, though she is surrounded by others. The reader left empathising with the character.

There are some stories in the collection that Barry makes it hard for the reader to empathize with the characters, and that may very well be the point he is trying to make. There is Ernestine and Kit, two old age pensioners, and possible lesbians who go around the country trying to kidnap young children. Barry turns the table on the idea of the female being caring and a nurturer. Likewise in Doctor Sot we have the local village doctor being a drunk and everyone knowing it. To make matters worse he’s not really too concerned with the well-being of his patients, rather his desires for one lead him to a New Age traveller camp where he seeks solace in the arms of a young woman, though he is married.
Dark Lies The Island definitely has a much darker element than Barry’s previous collection as can be seen in The Mainland Campaign, where we have two teenagers living in England who are plotting to blow up a tube station.  A recurring motif in The Mainland Campaign is music, something Barry uses in other stories from the collection. The most popular story in the collection is probably Beer Trip To Llandudno which won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award, deservedly so as well. Also set in the UK it tells of six men, real ale enthusiasts, on their way to Llandudno to test some ale. Along the way Barry gives the reader glimpses of the men’s limitations, and nowhere can that be seen stronger than in the character Little Mo, emasculated with his one testicle. Barry creates a powerlessness around the characters.

Overall Dark Lies The Island offers the reader a glimpse of an alternative Ireland, and some might say a truer picture of the state of the country. Every character has a story to tell, and though the reader may not identify with all of them, their views are as important as our own. Barry giving an insight into the real Ireland, post Celtic Tiger, where things though darker can be seen clearer. There is a reality to Dark Lies The Island

End of Guest Post

I offer my great thanks to Ben Healey for taking the time to write this great post on Kevin Barry's new collection of short stories.  If you are interested in Irish Short Stories I really urge you to visit and follow Ben's webpage, The Typists Pen

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

Thanks for an interesting perspective on this collection.

Suko said...

This sounds like a great collection of contemporary Irish short fiction. Excellent guest post!