Lennon speaks from his own little island
Written and read by Kevin Barry, 6hrs 45mins Wholestory CD £18.37, Audible download £10.93 Milk Wood, Under
Kevin Barry’s potently atmospheric novel about John Lennon is “the story of his strangest trip”. The often very funny account of a journey made in 1978, when Lennon was 37, to his private islet off the west coast of Ireland, it also travels in an unsettling direction into the mind of a stalled songwriter. A devotee of primal scream therapy, Lennon seeks to reignite the creative engines by howling out his past. The courtship of his parents, both of whom deserted him, and even the routes of Merseyside buses, are conjured up against a melancholy landscape of blue-bleak hills.
His local bagman, his Sancho Panza, is Cornelius O’Grady, the hook in a work of symphonic ambition. O’Grady talks broad Irish, and his voice, “deep and trustworthy like a newscaster”, reliably punctures Lennon’s pretensions and paranoia. The son of the soil relishes twangy country music and loves black pudding; Lennon ruminates about his macrobiotic diet.
Barry conveys Lennon’s haughty, languid air, and his cadences, often marked by the heavy tread of expletives, without troubling to mimic his accent. His Lennon is a reimagining rather than a copy. Not that Barry can’t do Scouse, as a talking seal, in the most surreal scene, proves.
He has, it turns out, lived in Liverpool. In a kind of bonus track, an interlude of calm after the rants, he veers into a documentary about his own life.
He tells how, as a teenager, he was obsessed by
Dylan Thomas’s play for voices, read on the radio by Richard Burton.
Its echoes can be heard in the small-town manners of O’Grady and his neighbours, and in Barry’s utterly mesmerising narration, which emphasises the musicality of his prose. He speaks slowly, pausing often for his startlingly fresh images – sheep are bedraggled teddy boys, for example – to resonate. Barry is breathier than Burton, though; a whisperer, luring listeners who, as he puts it, “read with their ears”.