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That Old Country Music Reviews

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry

That Old Country Music

Kevin Barry

4.13 out of 5

9 reviews

Imprint: Canongate Books Ltd
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Publication date: 15 Oct 2020
ISBN: 9781782116219

A new story collection - full of love, melancholy and magic - from the Goldsmiths Prize and IMPAC award-winning author of the Booker-longlisted Night Boat to Tangier

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
5 stars out of 5
Justine Jordan
5 Dec 2020

"Themes of love and loneliness, doom and desire are explored in a richly comic collection from an Irish maestro"

 The stories collected here are more relaxed, whimsical, even impressionistic. In one of the strongest pieces, “The Coast of Leitrim”, a typically awkward protagonist falls for a Polish waitress. This battle between long-term loneliness and the urge for love showcases what Barry does so well, effortlessly shifting narrative gear from the casually omniscient (Seamus possesses “a kind of native sneakiness, though he would have been surprised to have been told this”) to a howl of interior pain (the nights “were never-fucking-ending … landscapes sombre and with twisted figures”). 

Reviews

4 stars out of 5
Stephen Reid
14 Dec 2020

"resonates with the music of heart, the romantic impulse"

The story is a wonder in careful dilation between memories of their brief passion, and recognition of imminent abandonment. We hear the refrain carry through the book again of inherited susceptibilities to the same vices and romantic ideas as our forebears. As Setanta rides away on his dirtbike, there is the sense of cycles being revisited, Setanta’s abandonment of the mother being re-enacted by the daughter. The tune is a familiar one, old as the hills. To Hannah Cryan, the song is bitterly familiar: ‘Her man in jail and a child at the breast – it was all playing out by the chorus and verse’.

4 stars out of 5
Maria Crawford
11 Nov 2020

"Lovelorn characters and comedic excess abound in a new collection of short stories set in Ireland"

In the stories of That Old Country Music, that troublesome impulse manifests in characters who are lovelorn, escapist or foolhardy; in the allure of death and a Wordsworthian return to nature; and, with a coy measure of self-deprecation, in the image of the writer himself, mindful of his own constructed anguish. In all its manifestations, however, Barry keeps his take on the romantic tethered to humour and to his remarkable rendering, without crass mimicry, of the dialect of the west of Ireland, where most of these stories are set.

4 stars out of 5
Sarah Moss
27 Oct 2020

"hese playful, serious and beautifully crafted stories allow Barry to experiment as we need great writers to do"

The Roma Kid abandons realism for fable more quickly than most, and though the sentences are perfectly composed there may be some disquiet about the politics; the central character is a mysterious little runaway who finds a new life in the woods. We’re on safer ground with the men in mid-life inheriting old cottages and the stories that come with them, going looking for old music, being found by old storytellers whose powers verge on the unnatural.

4 stars out of 5
Hephzibah Anderson
25 Oct 2020

"The west of Ireland teems with canny characters and vivid language in the author’s third collection"

Here’s the heroine of the title story, for instance, 17 years old and pregnant by her mother’s shiftless lover, gazing at herself in a car mirror: “She had a face on her like a scorched budgie. She detested herself.” Written over the course of eight years, these stories aren’t quite of equal strength, but throughout, their language is exhilarating, its verve evoking the very best of Barry’s compatriots while further carving out a territory that’s all his own.

4 stars out of 5
18 Oct 2020

"At each turn, Barry makes his fiction a matter of life and death."

Kevin Barry’s third short story collection is full of the damaged characters, menacing rural scenery and darkly comic, slantwise prose that have become his trademark. 

4 stars out of 5
Jake Kerridge
18 Oct 2020

"stories of solitude that are far from glum "

A couple of the stories don’t come off, including the title piece, told, for a change, from the viewpoint of a 17-year-old girl: Barry’s attempt to mix his own eloquent idiom with one suitable for her doesn’t quite work. But give him a Sligo sad-sack and he’ll get the register just right, spinning exhilaratingly funny and poignant fables from quotidian misery.

3 stars out of 5
17 Oct 2020

"Barry’s latest short stories contain fewer laughs than usual as he goes deep into Ireland’s wild places to hear the hidden music"

Now comes his third collection of short stories, That Old Country Music. Shafts of high comedy have always distinguished Barry’s work, the swerve from grief into blessed laughter, devastating throwaway lines summing up a life or a failure. His knockout way to turn a sentence remains, but there are fewer laughs here; urban larks and verbals replaced by an undercurrent of sadness: lacrimae rerum

4 stars out of 5
Phil Baker
11 Oct 2020

"He makes it look easy, but it is unmistakably deft even in relatively minor pieces."

Deservedly acclaimed — his novel Night Boat to Tangier was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards novel of the year, and he is a former winner of what is now the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award — Barry’s deceptively laid-back writing has an assured texture. He makes it look easy, but it is unmistakably deft even in relatively minor pieces.