Sunday, 19 December 2021

Book Review: Young Skins by Colin Barrett

Young Skins Young Skins by Colin Barrett
My rating: 4

This debut collection by young Canadian born, Irish writer Colin Barrett is set in the fictional small rural Irish town of Glanbeigh, in County Mayo. It is a left behind sort of place, with left behind and left over people, mainly young, not well educated, whose empty boring going nowhere lives are filled and fuelled by quick fix, no solution drink, drugs and sex. The introduction in my Kindle version says "each story is defined by a youth lived in a crucible of menace and desire" and I think this is spot on.

I can't say I liked any of the characters, but through the grim and grime, flash passages of landscape or character description, often interconnected, that could be from the greats of Irish writing such as John McGahern and Colm Tóibín.
For example, in the story "Diamonds" he writes "The midland skies were huge, drenched in pearlescent light and stacked with enormous chrome confectins of cloud, their wrinkled undersides greyly streaked and mottled, brimming with whatever rain is before it becomes brain"
and later in the same story
" It was easy to pick out the chronic soak-heads from the tourists, the amateur drinkers. It had something to do with the way they conformed themselves to the planes of the bar, the way they agressively propped an elbow and periodically lifted a haunch from their stooll to get the blood flowing back into that leg" - great choice of the verb 'conformed' .

This collection which won The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award (see https://www.munsterlit.ie/FOC Award page.html) , The Guardian First Book Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature (see https://www.tcd.ie/OWC/rooney-prize ) contains 7 stories,6 shorter and 1 longer one, all about the human condition. I think my favourites might be the final two 'Diamonds' where a recovering addict returns home to try to go straight but find only oblivion looming ever closer, and 'Kindly forget my existence' where two estranged friends are drinking in a pub before the funeral of a young women they both loved.

I'll definitely be reading more by the author.

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