My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a writer, Kevin Barry is an impressive and unique stylist. And “Beatlebone” is no exception.
To begin with, this novel is difficult to classify. Technically, it is a work of contemporary or literary fiction. However, there are elements of the surreal and the fantastic woven seamlessly throughout and complicating efforts to apply any simple descriptions.
One of the book’s distinguishing marks is its humor. Wry, cynical, and occasionally absurd, the novel is not necessarily a comedy, but it never takes itself too seriously either.
Its most distinguishing feature, however, is its treatment of time. Past, present, future; characters and author; reality, dreams, and fantasy – these elements are not distinct from each other. The lack of chapter divisions and quotation marks blurs the lines and accentuates the strange fluidity of the characters experiences throughout the story. In this way, the various facets of John’s journey bleed into each other, sometimes even allowing the internal and the external to share a common space. And the end result is unique and delightful.
It is not the easiest book to read, but this is not a weakness. The style is fully a part of the narrative. Through John’s adventures, “Beatlebone” is an exploration of human weakness, time, memory, and the search for self improvement. It is solemn and funny. It is grounded and surreal. The dialogue is consistently quite crass, which may be off-putting to some readers. However, the vibrant and distinct voice, the unique style, the blurred lines, and the central humanity unite flawlessly to create a distinct and delightful work that is a strong artistic and human achievement.