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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 28 March 2015
Anyone who grew up, as I did, in a God-forsaken provincial town in Ireland where there isn't much to do except get drunk and where sex, if it ever happens at all, is a squalid, unpleasant, guilty affair, will feel uncomfortably back home, reading these deeply absorbing stories, some of which are very short and some long enough to be called novellas. Colin Barrett plays with language very skilfully: his "Diamonds" begins like a delightful half-parody of Raymond Chandler before settling into a strange, hopeless tale of chaotically large families, illegitimate, unwell chldren, and futile murder. Barrett loves language and can write with great lyricism and playfulness; his ability to describe a face or a person, or a river at night, or a squalid unsuccessful pub, or somebody's Adam's apple, will hold you spellbound and fascinated, but sometimes all of this hopeless pathos, this ultimately barren drinking and kicking, describes an Ireland that feels like the dog-end of a Europe that's come to an end here, petering out until it's washed away in the ocean. You wonder if that's all there is, in those towns; but I find this world of working-class young Irishmen and Irish women, out on an alienated edge where whatever's happening in the world is happening somewhere else, far more gratifying and gutsy than the effete Dublin Thatcherites of other Irish writers like Anne Enright, who praises this book as though she, and not he, were the better writer. I expect and hope for more from Mr. Barrett.
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on 28 July 2014
I first heard about this book when I read a sample story, Diamonds, in the Guardian newspaper. I thought that the story was so good, I just had to read the book. I was not disappointed. This collection is very impressive indeed. The language is sparkling and precise, the control that the author exhibits over his medium is total.
But it is not a comfortable read - the characters could be variously described as alcoholics, depressives, or wasters. The stories are of lost lives, waste, despair, and loneliness. If this sort of thing gets you down, then avoid the book. However, if you're interested in real lives and honest stories, no matter how bleak, then this is the book for you.
Personally, I almost stopped reading the stories once or twice. There's a threat of violence hanging over every story, something heavy and foreboding. But I kept returning to them again and again.
I see these stories as a new author flexing his muscles, early juvenilia. I think he needs to build on the collection over time, to add extra dimensions to the tone and delivery. But, in particular, I'd like to see him tackle something a little more optimistic. He has the skill and the talent to go very far.
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Colin Barrett, a thirty-two-year-old author from County Mayo, has already won three major prizes for this wonderful collection of short stories, his first book. Setting these in the fictional town of Glasbeigh, located near the Atlantic and “the gnarled jawbone of the coastline,” he tells the stories of “young skins” who have been born and bred and probably will always live in Glasbeigh, stories which not only ring true but come alive in surprising and often darkly humorous and ironic ways. His main characters, young men in five of the stories, and only slightly older in the last two, have the same urges and needs of all young people, but these youth are limited in their outlooks by the paucity of opportunities, and while some may have dreams, they are most often the small dreams of people who lead constricted lives.

“The Clancy Kid,” which establishes the tone and the themes for the entire collection, opens in a pub, where the speaker, Jimmy Devereux is sitting with his friend Tug, whose real name is Brendan. “Brendan” was the name of Tug’s older brother who died as a thirteen-month-old toddler, and Tug “was bred in a family warped by grief, and was himself a manner of ghosteen,” never able to shed the vision in the cemetery of “the lonely blue slab with his own name etched upon it in fissured gilt.” Within brief descriptions, the author conveys important themes and ideas and sets up the conflict that will erupt in the story, though the author lets the story unfold in surprising ways that change the focus from exterior plot to a study of character.

This perfect introduction shows the first of many characters dealing (or not dealing) with their lives and their environment. Most are, by nature, limited in their abilities to handle problems. “Bait,” the second story, shows two more characters, the protective and thoughtful Teddy and his cousin Matteen. As in the case of Jimmy and Tug, one character, Teddy, is the “minder” of the other, less thoughtful one. Here, however, the characters’ roles change, moving in ironic directions. Though Matteen has a real skill as a pool hustler and is able to earn money, the girls they meet have devious plans of their own. “The Moon,” a story about Val, a bouncer, and his right-hand man Boris, shows them also coming under the spell of women who have more insights into the world than they do.

Fate and the accidents which occur as a result of a character’s choices, misjudgments, or lack of insight create unexpected twists in the story lines, often leading the reader to feel sympathetic to these characters even when they bring on their own disasters. “Calm with Horses,” the ninety-page novella, has two main characters, Dympna and Arm, both minor dealers in marijuana, who, like the other characters live on the edge, physically and emotionally. Here an act of fate – or miscommunication –leads to disaster and horrific violence. The final story, about two men trying to decide whether to attend the funeral of a woman they both loved provides an appropriate ending and vision of hope. Straddling the line between comedy and tragedy, Barrett creates consummately Irish characters and crises, bringing the whole collection alive.
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on 13 June 2014
These stories come garlanded with praise from Ireland, land of exaggeration, but though very good in parts they are certainly prentice work. We have O Henry endings, hardboiled violence, panting prose, and yet some very touching, well-observed and real things: These lonely young and older drunks, grim farms, no-one could say they aren't one kind of Ireland, but where is the writer in all this, I mean his personality, where is a life seen from the inside? I like what he does with learning-disabled characters, and I think he's good at narrative drive, and he's readable, and not bad, and could do better later. The Clancy Kid is a lovely story.
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on 12 January 2014
I tend to steer clear of short story collections but I started this one after listening to a radio review. The writing is so accomplished, the characters and landscape are developed with such ease and speed, that there is no feeling of 'losing out' due to the short story format. The word 'vivid' has been used by another reviewer; I can't think of a better word to describe the writing. Each story is engaging and highly entertaining with themes varying from 'gentle' to my own favourite in which the Irish rural idyll meets 'Pulp Fiction'! Loved it!
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on 16 January 2015
These are very impressive short stories: perfectly judged with an effortless and powerful writing style. Barrett creates some very memorable characters and a sense of place through vivid imagery. The stories are not cheerful reading at all - there's little optimism here. The characters are people who we wouldn't necessarily want to spend time with and yet Barrett manages to make us suspend our judgements and let them tell their stories on their terms. We care about them too. If there's a criticism, they are male and a specific age group - obviously - Young Skins and a few of the stories overlap. We are presented with these characters as they are; we don't always understand why they are as they are. There's a rawness and honesty here. Definitely a writer to watch and a work that you won't easily forget.
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on 14 November 2013
This is a great read from a very exciting new author. Barrett has a gift for drawing in the reader to each story to make it vivid, memorable and meaningful.
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on 14 February 2015
Impressive collection of stories. Hard-boiled and unsentimental. The Saw Doctors captured some of the minor joys of living in small town Ireland although in Same Oul Town they also nailed the often oppressive vacuousness. Barrett's characters inhabit this same oul town but he scrapes away another layer showing the casual even primordial eruptions of violence that are never far from the surface.
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on 22 August 2015
Although the stories have similar themes and contexts, each has its own voice. It will be interesting to find out how the author develops in other fields or in a novel.
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on 3 September 2014
this book is for anyone who grew up in a rural area and Barrett writers what you only felt and could not put into words .
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