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4.3 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 April 2012
"Dark Lies the Island" is a collection of 13 short stories from the gloriously dark and frequently very funny Kevin Barry. You can probably tell from that, I'm a huge fan of his work. Barry is one of the few writers who can be relied on to make me laugh out loud while reading his books, even when in public places. It can get you strange looks, believe me.

There's no clear theme to the collection, other than a dark take on those, often with fairly sad lives and a frequent, delicious dry humour, particularly in the dialogue of the characters. There's no fancy trickery of writing style here either. Each is a vignette of a life or situation that often leaves the reader wishing this was a longer tale, which is usually a strong sign for a short story.

Inevitably, some work more effectively than others. Stand outs for me were "Wifey Redux", a story of a father's struggle with his 17 year old daughter's emerging sexuality and a cautionary tale that it's probably best to stop reading local graffiti once your child reaches puberty, "Fjord of Killary", a story about a hotel frequented by a superb cast of locals including a man whose only conversational gambit is how long it takes to drive to anywhere, and "Berlin Arkonaplatz - My Lesbian Summer", a story of a young man's summer and sexual awakening at the hands of a Slavic photographer in Berlin.

Elsewhere, Barry presents some darkly surprising turns, such as the elderly couple of ladies who turn out to be kiddie-snatchers, an alcoholic doctor who finds some redemption with a group of travelers, a group of Liverpudlian real-ale drinkers whose hobby hides individual dark pasts that emerge on a trip to North Wales (recent winner of the Sunday Times short story prize), and a bizarre story of a drug dealer on the run who gets caught up in some particularly strange sexual adventures with an old man, his wife and her sister. The story from which the collection takes its title concerns a self-harming girl. Dark indeed.

There's nothing particularly deep or meaningful about this collection - and equally it's blissfully free of those short stories that make you go "huh?" at the end. It's purely about the entertainment of the individual tales. His subject matter veers towards the dark, often involving criminals, drugs and alcohol, and many are set in Ireland or feature Irish people.

Barry is like a slightly more risque version of Roddy Doyle, and that is no bad thing at all. Like Doyle, he brilliantly captures dialogue, both spoken and internal and has a great eye for the absurdities and often tragedies of modern life. But while with Doyle you have a sense of comfort about where the story is heading, with Barry you know to expect the unexpected and this unpredictability is often thrilling and usually darkly funny.
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on 19 April 2012
I enjoyed reading this collection of stories about misfits and outcasts (largely) - and some I thought were excellent. Notably, for me 'A Cruelty' practised upon an adult with (probably) learning difficulties. In general, a different take on life, and featuring people and situations I'll remember. That said, the jacket promises that this is a 'darkly humorous' writer. This is something I fear I missed - that well be a personal shortcoming, but do try this first if at all possible, if you are looking for something that matches the 'darkly humorous' tag.
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on 11 April 2013
I'd rather fallen out of love with short stories, for no apparent reason. Then I tried Dark Lies the Island after a recommendation from a friend. Gone in two sittings and I promptly added the rest of his work to my basket. Some of the stories are truly dark whilst others are as touching as an old Yellow Pages ad. They are ordered perfectly, like the songs on a well thought out album making the collection hang together as a whole. I'm never very keen on comparisons but a couple of other writers did spring to mind - Alan Warner and William Gay who I both really admire. Easily my book of the year. Kevin Barry fully deserves the IMPAC award for which he is currently shortlisted.
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on 5 August 2012
The minimal disappointment of the ending of the title story denies the 5-star rating that this collection of zinging short stories really deserves. Kevin Barry writes dialogue like no-one else can, and can summon up whole lives and cultures in choice slim-line prose that cuts no slack. There are memorable mini-tales here that live on long after you've returned it to the library! The Liverpool guys on a real ale train trip to Llandudno? Who would have thought there'd be such subtlety and melancholy contained in such a premise! In fact, their discussions about rating a beer on a scale of 1 to 10 instead of 1 to 5 pertains to this scoring too, and if that were the case, it's a nine!
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on 4 October 2013
There are some very good stories in this book, especially the one which ends on an uplifting note about young gloom. But many were sort of similar to each other, poor people and criminals getting into trouble.
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on 20 March 2013
I had heard a lot about this writer so came to this book with high expectation which werent really met. It is as the title suggests a dark read. These are fairly gritty, bleak stories and not for those who like escapism or romance (in the broad sense). The stark realism here could I suspect be too harsh and mundane for some people. Lots of alcoholism, welfare mentality and low lifes here. It is a mixed bag really but some very well pitched stories including the first and last ("Across the Rooftops" and my personal favourite the bizarrely titled "Berlin Arkonaplatz - my lesbian summer". There are some fairly silly and pointless stories too and perhaps too much repitition of character types.
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on 30 August 2012
This is a thirteen story collection from Kevin Barry whose previous published works include his Rooney Award winning collection, "There Are Little Kingdoms", and his excellent novel, "The City of Bohane". I have read and reviewed both of these previous publications and they drove me to state that I will read anything Kevin Barry has published. "Dark Lies the Island" has not diminished my enthusiasm for his work.

Most of the stories in this collection are from the viewpoint of individuals. These individuals are all deeply involved in the emotions of the situations described. From the hotel owner in Killary Harbour, through the real ale enthusiast on a beer trip to Llandudno, to the alcoholic doctor on his rounds in Ireland, Kevin Barry brings the reader into his characters heads and shares the thoughts of these characters in a smooth and deeply sensitive way.

Barry is obviously a marvellous observer of human behaviour and keen listener to spoken language. All his stories use the language of the characters in a fashion that brings the stories to life and that adds credibility to the tales and authenticity to the voices of the narrators.

The range of story topics is wide and includes the activities of a drug dealer on the run from crooks, a pair of little old ladies touring the Sligo area, the actions of a girl with a tendency to self-harm, and the thoughts of a well-to-do father who has trouble liking his teenage daughter's boyfriend. While all the stories are about things that happen, I won't say ordinary things as some of them are quite extreme, they are often presented from a viewpoint that the reader may not be accustomed and many of them will give the reader pause for thought regarding people they may have dismissed out of hand in the past. As I mentioned in my review of his earlier collection, Barry must have an amazing ability to empathise with people from every walk of life.

This book reinforces my opinion that I have found another author whose work I will buy as soon as it is published and I will have no fear of disappointment.
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on 18 May 2012
I'm only four stories in but already this is a classic. Kevin Barry knows his way around a tale. I've not read anything by Barry before but once I've finished this you can be sure I'll be digging out his other books. From the opening tale 'Across the rooftops' you know you're in good hands. The story of an ill feted attempt at romance upon the roof of a flat is told with wit, economy and the lyrical vision of a real poet, as are all the stories Ive read so far. The stand out one for me at the moment is the chilling 'A Cruelty' which is utterly horrifying. The horror does not come from delving and twisting into the realms of fantasy and mythology but by simple observation of what happens every day in that world beyond your computer screen. I don't want to say to much more for fear of spoiling the books but if you are wondering wether to click 'buy' or not the dither no more. This is a sure fire 'buy,' click away and enjoy.
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In this stunning new collection of stories, IMPAC Dublin Award winner Kevin Barry shows his complete mastery of the genre, presenting startling, eye-opening stories of love and loss, hope and despair, and acceptance and resistance. Many of the characters here reflect an almost religious belief that misery need be only temporary if one has the strength and will to search within. The characters spring from the page, face a demon or two, and then retire to small lives lived between the cracks of a larger society. These "unremarkable" people often overcome challenges of universal significance here, giving a resonance and a sense of thematic unity often lacking in other collections.

These are not "easy" or "comfortable" stories. Most of the characters are somewhat "off-kilter," their problems somewhat beyond those of most readers, and their lives more bizarre than most of us readers. Unfortunately, some of these characters are also too weak to see hope; some do not have the energy or desire to change; and some are so dependent on others for their emotional stability that they are not equipped to face the present, much less the future. Barry shows them all as they face turning points in their lives, for better or worse.

"Moving on" becomes a major theme here. Some characters gain new insights, and some do not. In the delicate opening story, "Across the Rooftops," the shy main character meets a woman at a party, and they go up on the roof overlooking Cork. He would like to initiate a relationship, but he does not know how to begin. She appears not to be interested, and as dawn rises, they both come to recognitions. "A Cruelty," shows Donie, a sad and quiet man, only thirty-six, who has taken the Dublin to Sligo train from Boyle Station every morning for the past twenty years. If the train is even twenty seconds late, he becomes nervous and fretful. The unexpected intrusion of a stranger into his personal space changes his life.

"Beer Trip to Llandudno" in Wales, winner of the Sunday Times Short Story Award, describes a trip by seven British friends as they participate in an outing of their Ale Club to Wales. Moving from bar to bar, they reveal much about their inner lives, at the end of which they become "sentimental as a famine ship," anticipating their return home. "Dark Lies the Island," shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award," uses the point of view of a young woman (an unusual change for this collection) who compulsively cuts herself. She is taking a "year out" from her education as she tries to get control of her life. Whether these characters will conquer their demons or succumb becomes the focus of their stories.

A looming menace pervades the collection, and the author's use of the cadences and slang of everyday street life infuses the dialogue with dramatic realism and a sense of spontaneity. Every story leads to some sense of resolution, for better or worse, as the author shows that even those characters who have no chance of avoiding the fates they see coming still wish for positive change, even if they have little hope. Dramatic, powerful, and often bizarre, this collection is just as often sensitive, delicate, and even subtle. Lovers of the short story will celebrate Barry's latest achievement, one which shows all his talents to their greatest effect.
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on 25 May 2012
This is a book about the delights and peculiarities of isolation. All the stories focus on a central character that is somehow set apart from things - 'things' in this case being largely Irish. Barry has a talent for fusing location, speech patterns and phrasing to bring his various points home. He avoids the usual pitfalls of the form (e.g. deliberate knowingness, excessive pathos) and he often sets the reader up to expect one obvious thing before swerving into something much more unexpected and satisfying. The stories range from arch-comic through irony to poignant-tragic. There are no weak spots and many highs.
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