“Night Boat to Tangier” – Kevin Barry (2/5 ★)

This is one of those books where I actually really feel sorry about giving it a low rating… There were some parts that I found really enjoyable, the language was absolutely beautiful at times, the descriptions were almost tangible, but… It just wasn’t a story for my taste. If it wouldn’t have been for my book club, I surely wouldn’t have picked it up. Within these circumstances though, I decided to give it a try. In the end, I actually happened to have a really good gut feeling about it before having started – I simply didn’t enjoy it due to personal preferences. The story of the drugged-up life of two Irish, 50+ year old men, speaking a lot of Irish slang simply didn’t appeal to me.

“They drank too much and too late. They fought with venom and skill. They smoked rock cocaine. They fought like drunk gorillas. Gràcia was not what it had been even five years previously. There was no longer good heroin.” (p. 160)

Why not the lowest rating, but still the 2/5 ★ then? I’ll include some quotes which illustrate the writing perfectly and which make the book deserving of an additional star rating. There was something absolutely lyrical and poetic about certain passages, making me wish there was a bigger part of the book filled with them.

“At the Café Central, the Plaza de la Constitución, he drank café solo and waited. Around him there was the ceaseless hum of the old Andalusians’ talk. They balled up their napkins and threw them on the floor. The old man spat, narrowing their faces. Their skins of almond shape. The air was blue with cigarette smoke that rose in slow drifts. The old ladies wore ankle-length fur coats for the winter sun. […] The coffee machines laughed and spat also.” (p. 31)

The author definitely has a talent for putting together a special kind of mood and atmosphere. He has a distinct and recognisable kind of style. The story unfolds in a gentle kind of way, unveiling itself like a puzzle piece, more and more visibility being given to the characters with each little piece added. Since I have read this book in October, here another little description that seasonally fits to the current moment:

“October. The month of slant beauty. Knives of melancholy flung in silvers from the sea. The mountains dreamed of the winter soon to come. The morning sounded hoarsely from the caverns of the bay. The birds were insane again. ” (p. 198)

There was about a dozen of such descriptions that stood out to me and that I have highlighted. Even for those, I could see myself going back to the book, even if in total, I haven’t necessarily enjoyed it. If you’re not particularly into stories about drug dealers either, I would suggest you to start with another book of the author’s if you want to get to know his writing (even though the “Night Boat to Tangier” has been long listed for the booker prize, I feel like there must be some more captivating books out there by Mr. Barry).

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-1-78211-620-2
Canongate Books, 2020

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