Off the Shelf Book Review: Night Boat to Tangier

NIGHT BOAT to TANGIER
Doubleday Pub. ISBN 9780385540315 2019 255 pp.
By Kevin Barry. Book Review by Terry Kenneally

Selected as one of the Times ten best books of 2019, Night Boat to Tangier is a witty new take on Samuel Becketts, Waiting for Godot, a play in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for the arrival of someone named Godot, who never arrives, and while waiting they engage in a variety of philosophical discussions.

Kevin Barry’s book is a grim but compassionate new novel about two weary, old Irish drug smugglers named Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, who sit waiting in a run-down Spanish ferry terminal in the port city of Algeciras, waiting for the one man’s estranged daughter, who may not show up.

The book opens with Maurice and Charlie sitting on a bench in the ferry station. “Two Irishmen somber in the dank light of the terminal make gestures of the long-sufferance and who- they are born to such gestures, and offer them easily.” The two are looking for Maurice’s estranged daughter, Dilly, a twenty-three-year-old “dreadlock Rastafari”. They heard the young woman, who runs with a crowd of similarly maned hippies, is due at the station, either leaving for Tangier or returning from there.

The back story of the book is a series of excursions into the men’s pasts, which start to fill the reader in on their intimately linked criminal and romantic histories. Each cycle loops the reader back to the present in possession of some freshly alarming piece of information: what Maurice did to alienate his beloved wife and daughter (if Dilly is indeed his daughter, since nothing is certain here); what dreams they tried to follow with their ill-gotten gains.

Night Boat to Tangiers (which was on the long list for this year’s Booker Prize) is both a grim and compassionate novel which, like his previous novels, Beatlebone and City of Bohane have marked Barry as an extremely talented writer. I found the book to be a top shelf read.

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