Thank you to Doubleday Books and Netgalley for allowing me to read a digital copy in exchange for an honest review!
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
Publication date: 9/17/19 by Doubleday Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2019!
Maurice “Moss” Hearne and Charlie Redmond, middle aged Irishmen, are at the port of Algerciras, a ferry terminal, in October of 2018. Maurice hasn’t seen his daughter, Dilly, in three years, and they are waiting to find out if she’s coming or going. They have an Addidas bag full of missing person flyers with his daughter’s face on it. They try to get information from anyone they can, even if that means holding someone “hostage” at the terminal.
The two men have quite the history in the drug smuggling business. While they wait for information they reminisce all of the violence, romance, betrayal, and exiles they experienced together. This story is both humorous and dark.
Trigger warnings: Drugs, hint at child sexual abuse, cheating, and death
“But, if he has nothing else to his name, he has his regrets, and these are not without value to the matyr’s self-portrait displayed in his mind’s eye. I am fifty-one years old, he thinks, and still at least halfways in love with myself. All told you’d have to call it a fucken achievement”
Literary fiction is hard for me to understand completely. Literary fiction writers try with all of their might to do something completely different. They are rule benders of the writing world. Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it flops.
I was okay with this one until it started alternating between the present and the past. The past was jumpy, and the format didn’t help with that. It forced me out of the story, and I couldn’t connect with the characters as much.
“The ferry terminal has a haunted air, a sinister feeling. It reeks of tired bodies, and dread.”
I’m sure that this type of writing is well-loved by many people. It’s no surprise to me that it was long-listed for the 2019 Man Booker Prize. I’m positive that it’ll be short-listed as well. I don’t know if I am not a literary fiction type of gal, but I didn’t understand half of what was going on, or more so the point of what was happening. The dialogue was difficult to read because of where the characters are from.
The author does a great job describing people. I could tell how worn out and tired Moss and Charlie were. Their movements manifested how creaky their bones were.
I loved the description of Dilly when she finally appeared in the story. She also kept describing how much age has impacted the two men.
The metaphors and descriptions were the best part of the writing. Barry describes drug lords as wolves. That’s definitely the term I would have used. I just finished Breaking Bad, and I can’t believe how savage they can be. I know it’s a television show, but I’m sure similar events happen all the time.
The synopsis made it sound like you were going to learn about Dilly, but you basically follow the life of Maurice. You get hints of Charlie thrown in, but I’m glad Barry stuck with Maurice. They are waiting for Maurice’s daughter after all. I loved learning about all of the relationships between different characters. It was always different from one person to the next.
One critique that I found with the story was that there were so many different side characters that weren’t elaborated. I would often find most characters to be gone within a page or two. I get that it wasn’t the type of book to go into grave detail about side characters, but I did want a little more.
Maurice: I felt bad for Maurice at first. He hasn’t seen his daughter, and he’s stuck at this ferry terminal waiting for her, with missing person posters. He thought that he knew what she still looked like. It touched my heart a little bit. Then it switched over to his past and I didn’t seem to like him as much anymore. He entered the drug industry, and as interesting as that is, it wasn’t entertaining enough in this specific case. It seemed like he always wanted to do the right thing, but he ended up doing the complete opposite. Honestly, he was a hard character to follow. I am not that great at being able to judge what the author wanted the reader to get from a specific character. I am wondering if Maurice was meant to be hard to follow. If you have thoughts regarding Maurice and his character, then let me know down in the comments!
Charlie: Charlie grappled to form any sort of bond with another human. It even said in the story specifically that money—not people—became important to Charlie. Money wasn’t important because he could afford things; money was the enemy. Cash was necessary for all of the events happening in his life, e.g., child support—for a child that wasn’t his—and drugs. I do respect how much he cares for Dilly and Maurice. Those are the only two people in the story that he forms any bond with. He wouldn’t wait for her at the terminal if he didn’t care.
Cynthia: She is Dilly’s mother, and I really didn’t care for her either. I know that people make mistakes, but she also shot up drugs with Maurice. I’m pretty sure they smoked a joint with the little baby around. No way, José. I do not condone that one bit: zero tolerance. She didn’t really do anything special to the story.
Dilly: She is probably my favorite character out of the entire book. You don’t meet her until the end, but she was just a normal girl.
“She moves in an aura of calm—at twenty-three years old she is already queenly.”
She is also very clever. She doesn’t use technology, and she has thirty-two passports in her trolley case. To me it sounds like she wants to be who she wants to be, and go where she wants to go. Yes, I think communicating with her father every once in awhile would be decent of her, but her father hasn’t always been a moral person. I’d say it’s hard for her to decide if she wants to enter that old life again. I don’t blame her one bit. She wanted to talk to them the entire time she was at the terminal. That has to mean something, right?
“We are complicated fucking machines.”
It’s a good story with a lot of lessons to be learned. There is no doubt that Barry is a good writer, but I just didn’t jive with it as well as I was expecting to. It’s not even that it was hyped up. I didn’t actually hear much about it. The characters just fell a little flat, and the backstory didn’t pique my interest.
This would be a wonderful book club choice, and I highly recommend it even though I gave it three stars. There is a lot to chew on in here for most readers, and some thought-provoking quotes. I would even buy it in the future to read again. There is a bit of a time crunch with ARCs, and I try my hardest to read them before release date—which doesn’t always happen—but that’s okay. I think if I went back without any pressure, I might enjoy it more. This review is 100% honest, but I don’t think picked up everything that I was meant to pick up.
*Side note: I love the cover of this book (both editions)!
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