Review of Reading by Kevin Barry at UCC, 16th October 2014

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On the 16th of October in W5 at UCC, Kevin Barry treated the audience to a reading of his latest completed short story, titled ‘Monument’ as well as ‘Across the Rooftops’ from the collection Dark Lies the Island (2012). Barry was visiting the college as part of a series of free events run by the UCC School of English in collaboration with Munster Literature Centre. As part of this, UCC will also see Vona Groarke (13th November, 6pm, W5) and Billy Ramsell (6th December, same venue and time) take to the stage, along with appearances by Zadie Smith and Colin Barrett due next term. The Creative Writing Masters class enjoyed a workshop from the man himself and he shared some of his writerly wisdom with those in attendance at the reading as well. “A pragmatic streak is necessary,” he tells us, “putting up with long dreary days sitting at a desk.” He works best in the mornings, saying that at that time, your mind is less likely to be self-conscious and self-critical.

In the introduction prior to Barry’s reading, we heard of how he is someone who is both an observer and a listener, and whose frame of reference is passionately Irish. This is all reflected in his work which both astutely and comically posits Irish society in unusual and interesting terms.

Given his location, he chose to read two Cork based stories, having once lived on Dean Street himself, (over ten years ago). Set in the 1990’s (which he was keen to point out was “another planet”), the story is somewhat autobiographical and he recommends a gestation of eleven to twelve years before applying your own life to the page, suggesting that that is how long it takes for it to be ‘cold’ enough to transcribe accurately.

Both stories tell of what he described as, “Cork broken heartedness” with the “eerie October light” in ‘Monument’ casting a sombre tone, but somewhat annulled by humorous interjections in his writing. Occupying a room on Sunday’s Well, he writes of Patrick, an “auto-dramatising egotistical” and lusty, unpredictable Martha. The room comes to assume its own personality, with its own “pull”. The shaky bridge, the English market and Grand parade all make an appearance, with any attempt at realism waylaid by Barry’s characteristic wit taking front stage. Jealousy and envy obscure the path of the couple’s love and soon it emerges that this is not just a tale of lust, but of violence and tragedy also. The sobering topics of hysteria and madness threaten to depress the evening but Barry once again punctures that with comic and eloquent prose, enough of which serves to add a mythical tone even when we are aware this is something based on his own life.

The event was finished off by a reading of ‘Across the Rooftops’ from Dark Lies the Island. Set in a flat on Washington Street, the story once again illustrates Barry’s strength at writing cities and relationships.

The author of the novel City of Bohane (2013) and two collections of short stories is the deserved winner of the 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and one can only anticipate further commendations given time.

References:

“Barry, Kevin.” Irish Writers Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Kevin Barry, UCC West Wing. Personal photograph by author. 2014.

UCC School of English, and Munster Literature Centre. “Kevin Barry.” Public Reading Series. UCC West Wing 5, Cork. 16 Oct. 2014. Reading.

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