26 September 2023

Night Boat to Tangier

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Kevin Barry, Canongate, $29.99.

This quote by Federico Garcia Lorca explains a lot: “In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.”

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. It is October 23, 2018, and they are expecting Maurice’s estranged daughter.

The opening pages of the book find Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, both in their 50s and worse for wear, sit on a bench in the Algeciras ferry station: “Two Irishmen sombre in the dank light of the terminal make gestures of long-sufferance and woe — they are born to such gestures, and offer them easily.” The two men are there looking for Dilly, a 23-year-old “dreadlock Rastafari.” They’ve heard the young woman, who runs with a crowd of similarly-maned hippies, is due at the station, either leaving for Tangier or returning from there.

It’s a dark ride on this boat. The ferry terminal has a “haunted air, a sinister feeling. It reeks of tired bodies, and dred”. Long-time partners in the lucrative and dangerous enterprise of smuggling drugs — sit at night, none too patiently.

This night time vigil will kick off a remarkable journey back in time to unearth their shared history of mutual betrayals, romance, violence and serial exiles. Executed with lyrical flair that have made award-winning author Barry one of the admired fiction writers of today, Night Boat to Tangier is a splendid ‘melancholic melody of a novel’.

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