Putting the ‘Urban’ into ‘Disturbance’: Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane and the Irish Urban Gothic
Welcome to Bohane: a lawless, retro-future city in a parallel-universe west of Ireland—a seething mass of spud-aters, scobes and gombeens with ‘bumfluff taches and suicide eyes’.
Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2011 and operating within a lineage of writers including Anthony Burgess and Irvine Welsh, City of Bohane is an exuberant depiction of a violent and lawless city, a genre-bending blend of Urban Fantasy, post-industrial Gothic and ‘weird retro-fitted future-Western’, amongst others. Set in the west of Ireland city of Smoketown in the mid-2050s, Barry’s novel explores the fractures and tribalism between Logan Hartnett and his family, whose legacy of criminal activities has made for a scarred and troubled community, and Harnett’s nemesis, Gant, whose return threatens a new period of instability.
A notable constant amongst the reviews identifies an almost consciously Lovecraftian technique at work within Barry’s novel, whereby the ‘plot’, a straightforward return of a former hero and a bloody conclusion to an inter-city conflict, functions as the window-dressing for Barry’s real love; in this instance, the languorous linguistic play and atmosphere are the key desiderata underpinning Barry’s novel. The process is akin to the strategies devised by pulp novelists which produces the strange and unsettling sensation where you are reading ‘a pulp bricolage where texts concatenate out of scattered scraps, in what looks like a deliberate undermining of “plot”’ (Mieville 512).
The city represents a distinctive space which functions as a site of Gothic decay, disorder and dissent, a sequence of heterotopic nodes around which individual communities gather and merge, as well as a layered construction of historical entities in a state of continuous flux. This heterotopia is a city constructed of oddly connected, confusing, chaotic and ‘outlandish chronotopes’ (Smethurst, The Postmodern Chronotope: Reading Space and Time in Contemporary Fiction. Atlanta, GA: Editions Rodopi B.V., 2000, 117).
Bohane thus presents an inspired melange of the decaying post-industrial Gothic and Dickensian Victoriana. It stands thus that the zones of hybridity radically transform the Lovecraftian ghettoisation of the foreign, the disparate and the heterogenous, the heterotopic into a space for redemption, potential and rebirth: ‘a haunted Bohane reveals the manifest layers of voices, the polyphonic and echolalic city that will be forever in debt to its own ghosts’.
KeywordsGothic Urban Language Barry Mieville City Post-industrial Decay Lovecraftian Cityscape Liminal space Crisis Conflict Alien Noir Criminal Illicit
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