Book review: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

night boat to tangier kevin barryPublishers make a lot of claims for their books but describing Night Boat to Tangier as ‘Waiting for Godot meets In Bruges’ is pretty much spot on. Still, I owe them a review so I’d better find some more to say about it.

Maurice and Charlie are two gangsters in their fifties who are waiting in the port in Algeciras for the eponymous night boat. It emerges, via some casual violence and some comic dialogues with passengers and staff, that they are looking for Maurice’s missing daughter, Dilly, who has left home and is living as part of a community of what they describe as crusties, somewhere in Andalusia.

Through the night, they sit in the port, waiting for news of arrivals and departures, hoping they will learn something about Dilly. As they sit, their thoughts turn to their pasts in Ireland and Spain. There are hints of their criminal enterprises, their relationships and Dilly’s departure. At the heart of the story is the friendship between the two men, with all its ambiguities and murderous tenderness.

I have very strong and conflicting feelings about this book. The prose is beautiful, lyrical, haunting, funny, crude, violent. Barry has this incredible ability to capture the essence of a mood or a moment. His characters have insights quite at odds with their external appearances. Every moment is laden with subtext, as if there is another presence, illusory or magical, threaded through it.

The cities of Andalusia are beautifully evoked. These are places I love and I immediately recognised the crumbling beauty of the recent past, overlaid by the sheen of repackaged history and the devouring eyes of tourists. I love the sense of the port as a place of transition, where life is on hold, and worlds collide. (I also have spent grim hours waiting to get out of Algeciras.)

I did feel the underlying story was slight. I wasn’t expecting a conventional narrative but when I read a literary novel I want to feel I’ve learnt or grown or been moved in some way. I’m not sure that happened here, beyond the enjoyment of the language itself. The denouement (such as it is) comes too soon, and the end of the book is more fragments of backstory.

Still, if you can’t have everything, gorgeous prose, a haunting sense of place and a darkly comic dissection of friendship is certainly enough.

I received a copy of Night Boat to Tangier from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Night Boat to Tangier on Goodreads

Enjoyed this? Take a look at my review of The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

 

4 Comments

  1. I’ve picked up his books to leaf through a few times, but one of them hasn’t insisted on coming home with me from the library yet. But I do like the idea of their friendship being at the heart of this story.

    Liked by 1 person

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