Kevin Barry’s “Night Boat to Tangier” is, in many ways, an exceptional book. The first thing that hits you is the style in which it is written: unconventional; short, punchy sentences; lacking much of the traditional format of a novel. To be honest, this can be off-putting. For example, initially I was annoyed by the way in which, when speaking, the characters had to continually refer to each other using their names simply so that, as the reader, you knew who was talking. In reality, people rarely use the names of those they are talking to because they can see each other, they know who is speaking / listening [hence, as writers, we are burdened with having to deal with ‘he said’ / ‘she said’]. I also found some of the swearing – although in character – frankly gratuitous [so if you don’t like swearing, this may not be for you]. But after a while, when you get into the rhythm of the book, these annoyances fade away.
Also, don’t be put off – or ‘put on’ – by the notion that the book is “brilliantly funny”, as the cover of my copy proclaimed. Yes, it is funny in places, but it is far more than ‘a funny book’. The novel immerses us in love, loss, emotion (often crude), pain, pathos… It is partly a depiction about what it is to get old, to look back, to rue missed chances. And it is partly a story about the fear of an essentially blank future.
Looking back at what I’ve read, you might be forgiven for thinking that there are more reasons not to read “Night Boat to Tangier” than to read it – but read it you should. It is a vital, inventive and raw; it is funny, yes, but it is also perceptive, observant, emotion-filled and moving. I heartily recommend it.