On Thursday night Kevin Barry was announced the winner of the 2013 IMPAC award, for his debut novel City of Bohane. This year’s €100,000 prize was awarded for a single novel published in 2011 deemed to have the ‘highest literary merit’. Barry is the third Irish author – joining Colm Tóibín, and Colum McCann – to win the relatively young prize since its inception in 1996. Previous winners have included Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and Gerbrand Bakker, with the award’s short and longlist boasting an even more formidable array of both international and renowned authors. This year was no different. City of Bohane proved the best novel amongst 153 other titles from a total of 44 countries. Five of the ten shortlisted novels were in translation – including stiff competition from current Ireland-resident Houllebecq and Murakami.
The IMPAC is unique in that the nominated titles, seen here, are determined by libraries around the world. The author himself had this to say about the award’s nomination process:
The fact that this award originates with the libraries is what makes it very special to me – libraries are where we learn that we can live our lives through books.
However it is indeed still a judging panel that chooses the eventual winner from the shortlisted ten. It is great to see such an international judging panel too, with a few recognisable faces such as Kamila Shamsie and Clive Sinclair: both previous Best of Young British Novelists. Further information regarding the judging panel can be found on the award’s website, whilst this blog’s own coverage of the shortlist can be accessed here.
City of Bohane is indeed Barry’s first novel, but he is no stranger to writing, nor awards, having already published two collections of short stories. There are Little Kingdoms was awarded the Rooney Prize in 2007. Dark Lies the Island was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; within the collection his story, ‘Beer Trip to Llandudno’ won the Sunday Times Short Story Award in 2012.
But it is for his Costa Book Award shortlisted novel that Barry gains the most acclaim; a dystopian novel centring on gang-violence in the city of Bohane. Set in 2053, but devoid of all technology, Bohane is pierced by a black river, and surrounded by boglands called the Big Nothin’. Partly a gangland narrative, the novel focuses on a group of young characters involved in a feud between two rival families. The New Yorker describes it as ‘a grizzled piece of futuristic Irish noir’. Lord Mayor of Dublin and Patron of the Award, Naoise Ó Muirí said this about the novel:
I’m thrilled to see an Irish author of such immense talent take home this year’s award. City of Bohane is a vivid, atmospheric portrayal of a city in the West of Ireland set in the future but mired in the past. The highly original cast of characters are at once flamboyant and malevolent, speaking in a vernacular like no other.
Praise has been unanimous for Barry’s novel, focusing on his use of dialect and language; his vernacular has been described as a ‘wonderful blend of past, present and imagined future. He doesn’t over do it.’ (via the Guardian). The review goes on to describe the writing as changing from ‘firecracker dialogue to bleak pastoral’; it is not surprising to see the comparisons between the invention in Barry’s style to that of James Joyce’s. Much like Joyce Barry’s prose is musical, containing ‘evocative dialog, deft character sketches, [and] impossibly perfect descriptions of the physical world’ (via The Millions). Barry describes himself as a ‘raving egomaniac’ and unsatisfied until he is ‘receiving the Nobel Prize’ – and though a Nobel is not guaranteed, further success can only follow in the shadow of this debut break-out novel.
Dates of first published are listed, regardless of reprint or cover-edition