My favorite books tend to be long, dense, and old. The Brothers Karamazov, for example, was an incendiary experience. Orlando by Virginia Woolf blew me away. Anna Karenina saved me during a pretty dark time (more on that sometime later). Buddenbrooks was a joy. So there you are. Long. Dense. Old. Of course it is by now well established that Jim Harrison’s books buck this trend. So too A.S. Byatt’s short stories. But on the whole I disappoint Ian McEwan by maintaining membership in the long book fan club.
It’s gotten so that I’m hesitant about short, fun, and new (short being anything under the 400 page mark). It’s GOTTEN so that, when presented with an ARC of Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, I got a little shifty-eyed. “It’s about a sort of post-apocalyptic West Ireland,” said M. “About gangs and stuff. Dark, I think, but supposed to be a whole lot of fun.” And that was that. Fun? FUN? I put it aside.
And then I was supposed to take a plane. Now, calling City of Bohane airport reading is just about the most unjust thing a person can do, but I’ve talked before about my total inability to select the correct reading material for journeys and I was not about to be stuck trying to decipher Quentin and Caddie’s relationship in the middle seat next to a toddler, so I decided to try this book—deemed fun by trusted sources.
And by hell was it fun. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book. And that’s not to say it was fun the way that say—The Scarlet Pimpernel—can be fun. It wasn’t simply guilty pleasure reading. It was a carefully crafted, inspired piece of art that delivered. I finally understood what all of those hackneyed book critics meant by tour-de-force. It blew me away.
I could tell you what this book is about. The crumbling aspirations of an aging gang-king about to reach his inevitable end. Lost love and betrayal, complete with sand pikeys, fashionable enforcers, and lazy-eyed beauties. Wheelings, dealings, and killings, equal parts Bill Sykes and Stephen Daedalus. But it’s more than that. It’s a whole world, presented to you in Technicolor with an accompanying score.
Released by Graywolf Press, a favorite, City of Bohane features language that’s twisty and lush and sharp, and—sometimes—purely invented. Like the greatest of Irish literature, it’s something that has to be heard. Thankfully, Kevin Barry himself does a really wonderful reading of the first chapter.
The attending cocktail seemed pretty obvious—the Blackthorn—with good Irish whiskey for a solid foundation, vermouth for sweetness (fun), bitters for balance and absinthe for pure weirdness. Served up in a martini glass with a twist of lemon, it’s just the thing Bohane’s hero, Logan Hartnett, the Albino, the Long Fella, would drink. Elegant and strong. I use Redbreast here but any good Irish whiskey will do. No absinthe? You can always use pernod in a pinch. The trick is to stir, not shake, and to enjoy it in your most ludicrously fabulous outfit, ya check?
2 ounce Irish Whiskey
1 ounce Sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash Absinthe
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.