First published by Greywolf in 2013, Kevin Barry’s debut novel City of Bohane the provides a blueprint for how successful “world building” happens. Here it lays deep in this otherworldly novel’s DNA. The plot involving a gang war and twisted love triangle manages to marry the brutal simplicity of street justice, a kind of gutter real politics with all of the sinewy complications that arise when human beings attempt to act out solutions on such a stage.
The secret to making the Back Trace, Newtown, Smoketown and the other grim sectors of life feel like real districts of the City of Bohane lay in the fractured language in which the novel speaks to us. English transforms on the page into a brutal kind of street speech that owes much to writers like James Joyce and Anthony Burgess. It is in this transformation of the language that the “world building” takes place.
Mr. Barry is not creating just some common version of a future dystopia but a kind of netherworld where language proves to be the bluntess weapon of all. In learning the tricks and traces of this language, the reader is transported and inhabits Bohane. It is a novel that does not simply send a postcard from a strange place but directions and instructions on how to deal with the locals once you arrive.
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