“Night Boat to Tangier” by Kevin Barry – book review

Basic plot: Two aging gangsters wait – and wait – and then wait some more while menacing strangers – at a Spanish port in the hope of finding a runaway daughter who they adore. While waiting, they reminisce on their many adventures and mistakes

Mini review: Night Boat to Tangier has been widely acclaimed, become a bestseller, and I’m probably one of the few who weren’t immediately impressed.

I read this a while ago and although it’s brilliantly written, and the characters finely drawn, it somehow didn’t grab me at the time. The dialogue is both natural and yet cliched, if that makes sense, making me feel as if I’ve read this before. Then again, that might be part of the joke, as the gangsters themselves are meant to be a cliche.

Rather than having a shock ending, Night Boat gradually ramps up the tension as it goes, revealing more and more horror stories about the gangsters until even I, the grumpiest book reviewer in the world, became … well, less grumpy.

I still don’t love this book, and yet … it stuck with me afterwards in a way that many, more enjoyable novels, haven’t.

For starters, it’s the first novel I’ve read where you feel entirely differently about the main characters by the end of the novel than you did at the beginning.

It also (somewhat humorously) references the film Rumblefish by Francis Ford Coppola – so if you’re going to read this and haven’t watched that, I recommend it. (Rumblefish is worth watching anyway – it’s a bizarre example of someone taking a relatively straightforward teen novel and turning it into an art film.)

Night Boat to Tangier also, indirectly, connects to my current midlife crisis, as the two ageing gangsters reflect on their lives, and lord knows I’ve been waking up in the middle of every night reflecting on mine – so maybe that’s why, several months after reading this, I still can’t get it out of my mind.

So now that I’ve written this review, hopefully I can get some sleep. Or watch Rumblefish again.

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