Kevin Barry – Night Boat to Tangier (4 stars)

Kevin Barry – Night Boat to Tangier

Booze-soaked and lovelorn third novel from the winner of the IMPAC Award and the Goldsmiths Prize

Two ageing Irish gangsters sit in a ferry terminal on the southern coast of Spain. They are waiting for a boat going to, or possibly arriving from, the Moroccan port of Tangier. They are looking for someone who may be aboard. They are old friends, and old enemies too, and they can just about finish each other's sentences by now. They are Charlie Redmond and Maurice Hearne, and they have seen better days, but they are still dryly witty, still just-about cool, and still capable of sudden violence.

Kevin Barry's third novel is booze-soaked and lovelorn. It is also intensely televisual, with beat-perfect dialogue and the diamond-grade schlock of an HBO script. In his previous book, the Goldsmiths Prize-winning Beatlebone, Barry wrote that 'whatever you're most scared of surfacing in your work, you can be sure that it's nearby'. His own great fear, he said, is sentimentality. In Night Boat to Tangier, he seems to have overcome this terror, or else thrown himself knowingly into the black heart of it. This book is as sentimental as they come, full of lost loves and bad men getting weepy at old reminiscence. Such a maudlin tone might be annoying in passing; laid on this thick it becomes intoxicatingly intense. Night Boat's hyper-real version of sentimentality is too stylised to be cloying or needy. Just about.

The loosely-woven plot feeds Charlie and Maurice's conversation with sweet and bitter memories, but narrating events is secondary to Barry's main concern: the cumulative effect of a thousand wicked turns of phrase. 'An attack dog barks a yard of stars', he tells us. Elsewhere, 'the city ran a swarm of fast anchovy faces. The surge of the night traffic ran'. Night Boat to Tangier is a darkly heady mood, thick enough and sweet enough to drink.

Out Thu 20 Jun via Canongate.

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