Not too long ago my friend East Texas Red sent me an email pointing me to a review in the New York Times of the book Beatlebone by Kevin Barry. The review, which was very positive, was written by songster Steve Earle.
This is the second book of fiction in a row I’ve read featuring a real-life historical character. The last one, Colony of Unrequited Dreams, by Wayne Johnston, was written in the voice of Joey Smallwood, the first Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Beatlebone features a much different but equally real historical figure, John Lennon.
The book is set in 1978. John Lennon, at least the character John Lennon, owned a small island of the west coast of Ireland, he had not been to in many years. At the point we enter the book, Mr. Lennon is on his way to his island. He wanted to go there to scream.
There is another main character in the book, Lennon’s driver/fixer, whose job it is to get his employer to the island without the press finding out and following. Of course this is easier said than done, as Mr. Lennon was at this time still a figure of some public interest, being an ex-Beatle and all.
Beatlebone is a lovely book, a lyrical and sensitive portrait of a guy trying to find himself, and trying to rekindle some creative fires along the way. Because we all know who John Lennon was, because we’re hip to the history, author Kevin Barry could dispense with all that and concentrate on a more interior portrait of his characters.
Cornelius is a fascinating foil for Lennon, an equally strong character in this book who we quickly realize has a much bigger role in the novel than that of a driver. Much of the book is in fact a conversation between John and Cornelius.
Beatlebone is funny, sensitive, somewhat surreal and trippy, and also quite clever. Part of the book is actually about writing and researching the book. Very unusual approach. It’s an oddball book and I suspect it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed it.