A Year in Reading: Kevin Barry

December 18, 2013 | 2 books mentioned 3 2 min read

coverI gurgled and frothed with sheer animal pleasure all the way through My Lunches with Orson (Metropolitan Books), a transcript of taped conversations between Orson Welles and his friend Henry Jaglom, made over elaborate lunches, in Los Angeles, in the early 1980s, and in which the great director gossiped with magnificent bitchiness about the stars he had known, and wedded, and bedded, and elaborated on the fineries of his craft, and gave masterclasses in story and structure, and talked about poodles, sauces, politics, and poems, and much else besides, and in fact gave the final, incontrovertible evidence that his was one of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century. And also one of the funniest. A lesser-known fact: Orson made his breakthrough in Ireland, as a handsome corn-fed teen, in the early 1930s, when he acted for the legendary Michael Mac Liammoir’s company at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and he confesses in this book that he went on to nourish a life-long hatred of the Irish people, most especially Irish-Americans. Choice anecdote: one day, during a break in rehearsals, Orson asked Michael to give the defining characteristic, in a single word, without thinking too hard about it, of the Irish race, and Michael immediately responded with “malice.” I defy anyone not to read this wonderful book in a sitting.

coverSpeaking of Ireland, the novel Notes from a Coma by Mike McCormack has stealthily been developing a cult reputation there since its initial publication in 2005, and this year it finally got an American release through the good offices of Soho Press. This is the near-future story of JJ O’Malley, a kid adopted from a Romanian orphanage who grows up in the west of Ireland and there submits to trials on an experimental prison ship in Killary harbor, aboard which the inmates are induced into coma states to cut down on costs. McCormack is the bastard love-child of John McGahern and JG Ballard, and this is a brilliant book.

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’s most recent book is Dark Lies the Island. His debut novel, City of Bohane, was a New York Times Notable Book, won the 2011 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, was short-listed for the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the Costa First Novel Award, and won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He won the Rooney Prize for Irish literature for There Are Little Kingdoms, his debut story collection. His stories have appeared in the New Yorker and Best European Fiction, among other places. He also works as a screenwriter and playwright. He is from Limerick and County Sligo, Ireland, and currently lives in Montreal.

3 comments:

  1. Too bad not many people have read The Hospital Ship by Martin Bax, which was published in the early 1970s. Then they would know that McCormack’s book is not the first of its kind, but a copy of a copy.

  2. dear Kevin Barry, your very name conjures memories of my cousins and aunties and uncles breaking into song on summer holiday in Ballyheigue. The rented house was so raw and bone-cold my cousin Mary and I, all of 14, would go to bed bundled up like grannies in long flannel nightgowns topped off with shetland wool jumpers and socks. When we swam the ocean was so cold I thought my heart would stop, while my Dublin cousins splashed around saying “it’s lovely warm.”

    Anyway, Kevin Barry was one of their favorite songs. That and Bold Robert Emmet.

    Going to look for both these books– the way you describe LUNCHES WITH ORSON reminds me a bit of the BURTON DIARIES– the mix of art and gossip and creature comforts. My parents’ house is full of books by Micheál MacLiammiór– wondering what other anecdotes may be in the Jaglom book.

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