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Booker Prize 2019 Longlist: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry



Book 11 read and rated by panellists Book Worm, Tracy, Andrew, Susie & Lisa

Synopsis from the Booker Prize website: It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder. Can it be put together again?

This is a novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic, but it is obsessed, above all, with the mysteries of love. A tragicomic masterwork from a multi-award-winning writer, Night Boat to Tangier is both mordant and hilarious, lyrical yet laden with menace.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I loved this book I found it darkly funny and touchingly sentimental at the same time. I will add a disclaimer here the humour is very much what I would call “British Isles” humour so I am intrigued to see how our panellists around the world find this.

In terms of character I really enjoyed seeing how Maurice and Charlies relationship developed over the years up until the present day I was also intrigued by the history of why Maurice’s daughter chose to leave home and disappear overseas.

I liked the way the narrative moved backwards and forwards in time. We start in the present day and then each alternate chapter shows the reader a time period in the past each of which reveals more about the friendship between the men and the issues they have overcome.

I also love the way that several times it is mentioned that time and specifically the past are not stable concepts.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20

Andrew’s Thoughts: Hey! I actually finished a book in time to review it! (I almost finished “The Man Who Saw Everything” in time – still haven’t completed it, but hope to do so in time for the short list. I have a different take on it than all the other panelists.)

As someone who enjoys succinct prose and snappy banter, I truly enjoyed this book. Even though Maurice and Charlie are thugs, Barry is able to expose their humanity and ultimately I grew rather fond of them. Given the heavy dose of Irish slang, I’m sure I missed a number of references, but was still able to understand enough to find the book darkly humorous throughout.

While Barry excels at creating atmosphere and slowly revealing character histories through flashbacks, I would have liked to have seen Dilly’s character fleshed out more fully. She serves as a useful metaphor for the lost innocence of youth and what “might have been,” but ultimately she’s two dimensional. She should really be the most sympathetic character in this novel, but there was enough substance to her to make me emotionally invested in her plight.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: Another book that I’m not sure why it made the longlist. It wasn’t bad. Just nothing to write home about. This is the story of the friendship of two thugs, Maurice and Charlie.

They are waiting in Spain for the ferry from Tangier, in hope that Maurice’s daughter will be on it.

This reminded me of Waiting for Godot. There were more than two characters, but the whole book focuses on the conversations and memories of these two best friends.

There wasn’t much of a plot. The characters weren’t likeable or relatable. Just a meh for me.

Writing quality: 3.5/5
Originality: 2.5/5
Character development: 2.5/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11/20

Susie’s Thoughts: I have never read anything from Kevin Barry, I knew next to nothing about Night Boat to Tangier before picking it up, and wham! I was entranced right away.  I absolutely adored every single word. Reading it reminded me of how I have felt when watching Quentin Tarantino’s films – a nonlinear timeline, an undercurrent of violence, bubbling just beneath the surface and creating an anticipatory feeling that it could erupt at any second, multiple protagonists, and dark humour.  Barry’s writing has a Cormac McCarthy vibe to it; a friend suggested that he may have just created Irish gothic. The characters and the exploration of their backstory was fascinating.  The use of vernacular made my heart sing, and the prose was lyrical and oh so satisfying to read. I wanted to slow it down so that it never ended. And there was THAT SCENE – pure genius. My favourite read of the longlist so far.  I can’t fault it.  I will be gutted if it doesn’t make the shortlist. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 20/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: I was not planning to like Night Boat to Tangier. The novel centers on two men – violent criminals, drug smugglers – these types of characters are not the types I usually gravitate towards. Really, there are aspects of these men’s behavior that are just awful. However, as the story goes back over key points in their lives, I became more attached to the main character, Maurice (“Moss”). You could see some of his vulnerability under his hard outer shell, including the fact that he really loved his daughter. And I just really enjoyed the snappy writing style. The descriptions of places could be elegant, and the dialogue subtly funny. This book just pulled me in.

Writing quality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development:2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16 /20


The Man Who Saw Everything 18.2
Girl, Woman, Other 16.66
Lanny 15.92
Night Boat to Tangier 15.6
Frankissstein 15.2
Quichotte 15
My Sister, the Serial Killer 14.6
An Orchestra of Minorities 13.66
Lost Children Archive 13.3
10 Minutes 38 Seconds 12
The Wall 11.57

What are your thoughts on this one will it make the short list

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. pbtanita #

    I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to get this one in before the shortlist. I hope it makes it so I have motivation to read it. Did someone say Cormac McCarthy . . .? That makes me really want to get to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2019
  2. Interesting to see such vastly different reactions to the same book

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2019
  3. I had such a good clip going on these books, then lost momentum. If more of them had been published I could have listened to audio and gotten through them. Oh well. Normally Susie’s review would have been enough to make this a priority, but we seem to differ on Booker books.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 29, 2019
    • Book Worm #

      I think you would like this one…

      Liked by 1 person

      September 1, 2019
      • Just finished, Loved it. SUZIE! Yay. We’re getting back in sync.


        September 2, 2019

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