Victoria’s Book Reviews: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry


Oh, this is a short book but, my, it packs a mighty punch. This bestseller, Booker Prize longlisted novel, and all-round tragicomic masterpiece is out in paperback next month and, I tell you, it is magnificent.

We sit with Charlie and Maurice, two ageing Irish gangsters, at the port of Algeciras in Southern Spain as they wait for the boat to Morocco. Only it quickly transpires that it’s not the boat itself that they are expecting but a person on it – a young woman. One who has been lost to them for a long time.

As they bide their time, Charlie and Maurice share stories – accentuated with flashbacks – of events from their lives. Theirs are histories of violence though and those scars have run very deep indeed. These are also men that have paid a heavy price for the crimes they have committed and yet Kevin weaves these horror stories with moments of terrific gallows humour and wit.

“I don’t know if you’re getting the sense of this yet, Ben. But you’re dealing with truly dreadful fucken men here.”

But this book is far cleverer than some sweet reminisces. There’s a touch of the Beckett in this almost consistent duologue. The two men spar and joke but their situation is pretty bleak and there’s a clever minimalism to both the dialogue and prose.

Then there’s that boat they are waiting for… Casting that ominous shadow of the boatman to the dead who carries souls to the other side. “The ferry terminal has a haunted air, a sinister feeling. It reeks of tired bodies, and dread.”

Kevin conveys that these are lives that have run their course, that Charlie and Maurice are men who are out of time in every sense. “The likes of you and me won’t pass this way again, Moss.”

The book has been rightly raved about left, right and centre. Yet I have seen a couple of reviews of those who’ve struggled with the sparse prose somehow seeing it as a book half-developed. Well, these reviewers couldn’t be more wrong! Take this sentence, for example: “Charlie Redmond was drinking alone but for his demons at a crowded table down the back.”

May all sparse prose be that powerful.


Night Boat to Tangier is published by Canongate; paperback RRP £8.99

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