Books of The Times: Review: In ‘Beatlebone,’ an Imagined Trip With John Lennon

Textbooks of The Times


“Beatlebone,” the peculiar and exhilarating new novel by the Irish writer Kevin Barry, is about John Lennon — type of. It follows him closely for about two hundred internet pages, via a number of comically calamitous times in 1978, as he travels by means of western Ireland to an island off its coast, acquired on a lark 11 a long time earlier. He’s nearing forty here earlier drugs, earlier scream treatment, considerably earlier the Beatles, and stripped uncooked emotionally, tired “but not for sleeping,” full of “large unhappy warmish feelings.”

A few days by itself on his island, he hopes, will bring him the peace that even relationship and fatherhood, however he loves them, have not. The poignant knowledge that this is an stop-of-daily life disaster, not a middle-of-existence one: That belongs to us, not to him.

These very first 200 internet pages are nearly best, observant, melancholy but not mournful, and tremendously funny, mostly simply because John’s endearingly lofty eyesight of his trip’s objective, a communion with mother nature and himself, runs quickly into quite sensible troubles. For starters he has difficulty simply locating his island the nearby fixer getting care of him, a man named Cornelius who is incapable of correcting anything, doesn’t have a fantastic idea of how to get there. He tries anyway, top his well-known demand through a collection of misadventures, as they dodge journalists, pay a visit to the pub in disguise and turn out to be stranded in a derelict lodge with a few holdovers from the hippie period.

And then yet another character enters the book: Mr. Barry himself.

Kevin Barry

Conor O’Mahony

Out of the blue it is 2011, and we’re within his head as he stands “with all the other hunched pilgrims” outside the Dakota in New York, the apartment creating the place John Lennon lived and was killed. Mr. Barry realizes some thing. “If I was going to make beatlebone everything it need to be,” he writes, “I necessary to get to the island.” And so he sets off.

This gesture is at the very least as old as Laurence Sterne — “baring the system,” literary critics named it virtually a century back — but in this context it feels startling, even risky, simply because “Beatlebone” would have been an exceptional novel without having it, a tender portrait of a guy “37 several years alongside the street — the slow-rapid, gradual-swift road,” as the novel puts it in a typically pretty, darting line.

And however the threat pays off. The hallmark of Mr. Barry’s previous fiction has been his outstanding gift as a stylist in his only other novel, the much-honored “City of Bohane,” a slangy tale about a gang war in the in close proximity to potential, a look could be a “lamp,” a “check,” a “sconce” — swift-witted coinages at once low and literary, in that peculiar, flexible Irish trend. But “City of Bohane” was also, in its thinner moments, filmic in the improper methods, like a Quentin Tarantino reboot of “West Facet Story,” its violence and lurking sentimentality correlated.

“Beatlebone” is significantly a lot more profound. Mr. Barry’s language is still poetic and reaching and imaginative, but now in effortless provider to a lot more sizeable themes, in distinct enjoy and “the way that time moves.” As the novel’s attention alternates amongst Mr. Barry’s genuine journey to the island and John’s manufactured up 1, the identities of the two men — equally artists, equally marked by the reduction of their mothers — mingle, until finally their tales begin to overlap more and much more exactly, and last but not least the two become indivisible, ghosts of each other throughout the many years. The influence is beautiful, reminiscent at different moments of Virginia Woolf and Geoff Dyer, specially the ambiguous narrator of Mr. Dyer’s superb novel “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.”

But it also leaves lingering a substantial issue, which is how near this e-book, as it moves further absent from John Lennon, truly at any time obtained us to him. Or is that the author’s stage: that any function about an artist is in some sense a self-investigation, and that to introduce by yourself into the narrative is the most sincere way to admit that?

I come about to really like the Beatles, so ardently that I sometimes consider that if I could maintain the work of any artists from the last century, shipping and delivery it down into the care of our descendants, it would be theirs. Which means, of course, loving John Lennon.

“Beatlebone” faultlessly captures Lennon’s acidic, self-loathing, yearning, weary facet. (And his feeling of humor, as well, an essential aspect: “Do you have a reservation?” a hotel clerk asks him. “I have significant ones,” he replies, “but I do need a space.”) What Mr. Barry finds far more elusive is the other component of John, which remained harmless ample to create the luminous music he wrote all through the seventies.

So when John suggests late in “Beatlebone,” “I think we need to all enjoy and ravish every single other but I’m keeping out no excellent hopes,” it is as if Mr. Barry truly were the one talking, with a novelist’s appreciation for the complicated messed-up-ness of the entire world. John Lennon always did seem to keep out excellent hopes.

Even as the journeys of the creator and his protagonist merge, Mr. Barry and Lennon continue to be stubbornly distinct. But possibly what eventually tends to make this a fantastic novel is its author’s exploration of the ways that sometimes, in art, we do get to grow to be every other — kind of.

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