Author(s): Kevin Barry
It's late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder - can it be put together again? Night Boat to Tangier is a novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic, but it is obsessed, above all, with the mysteries of love. A tragicomic masterwork from a multi-award-winning writer, Night Boat to Tangier is both mordant and hilarious, lyrical yet laden with menace.
On the far side. What if it’s just…
The dead are necessarily unaware that they are dead in the same way that the characters of a novel are necessarily unaware of their fiction. In either case, voices call out, unable to free themselves from their pasts, disembodied at the moment of their calling, unable to be silent, unable to stop moving on, unable to relinquish their attenuated existence. The voices of the dead differ in no regard from the voices of fiction. Fiction is, before all else that it is, a form of haunting. In Kevin Barry’s novel, two decrepit Irish crooks in their fifties wait at the ferry terminal in Algeciras in the belief that Dilly, the estranged daughter of one of them (and it becomes eventually unclear which), will pass through the terminal to cross the strait that divides Europe from Africa (or, symbolically, by my reading, the land of the living from the land of the dead). Like some virtuoso outcome of a collision between Waiting for Godot and Lincoln in the Bardo, the voices of Charlie and Maurice bear the novel through its progression, or non-progression, their waiting for Dilly: immediate, perfectly pitched, colourful, rude and hugely funny. Charlie and Maurice are old friends and rivals, deeply damaged, attached to and afflicted by each other, not given to introspection other than to regret, crass, violent, pinned to life but through with life, unable to pass on or to cease, each bearing the wound of the other, all the while lumbered by the ungainly physicality of an Adidas holdall. “The past will not relent.” Interspersed with their dialogic co-dependence are flash-backs, or, more accurately, tethers to periods of their pasts, their business in the import of hashish, their slowly revealed relationship with each other and with Maurice’s wife Cynthia, their tales of destruction and self-destruction, their very human weaknesses and failings, the instances of the past that will not relinquish them now. “There are only seven true distractions in life,” says Maurice, namely want of death, lust, love, sentimentality, grief, pain (“mental and physical divisions”), avarice — it is these aspects of their pasts that tie the characters to existence, and form the generous human scope of the novel. At one point Maurice is described as “more than possessed by his crimes and excesses — he was the gaunt accumulation of them.”
You know what I get to wondering, Maurice?
Tell me, Charlie.
About death, Moss.
Here we go.
Is it as raw a deal as they make it out to be?
Barry’s writing moves effortlessly from crass banter to poetically beautiful descriptions of place, and is studded with memorably surprising turns of phrase (“Beneath Charlie’s left eye there was a tic of nervous fluttering, as if a tiny bird were trapped beneath the skin.”) and existential humour (“The fear of turning into our parents, she said, is what turns us into our fucking parents.”). How long will they wait? Waiting becomes a state without object. “Would you say there’s any end in sight, Charlie?” says Maurice in the opening line of the novel. On the last page, after their wretched lives have been pinned out, replayed, again replayed, Charlie asks, “Is there any end in sight, Maurice?” And perhaps there is. A paragraph ends abruptly, without a punctuating mark. Then
I think it’s stopping, he says.
Prizewinner - Longlisted Booker Prize 2019