published: 23 /
In 'Raging Pages' Lisa Torem discovers that by writing a novel, 'Beatlebone', about one of the most famous musicians in the world, John Lennon, Kevin Barry has taken a huge risk, yet finds it all coming together magically
'Beatlebone' (www.Anchorbooks.com) is a novel about John Lennon by author Kevin Barry ('City of Bohane', 'Dark Lies the Island', 'There are Little Kingdoms'). At the core of his story are truths that hardcore fans already know: Lennon did purchase an island in rural Ireland, he did enjoy time taking care of his young son Sean and baking bread at the famous Dakota in New York City and he did suffer from identity issues as a result of a self-proclaimed reclusiveness approximately three years prior to his death, but Barry spins those facts way beyond the surface what-ifs and dots each monologue and conversation with delightfully surreal prose.
The fictional Lennon has a goal: to spend three days on the island; to get in touch with his emotions; to scream, to “at last outrun the shadows of his past.”
“.. the sea is out there and moving. He hears it drag on its cables—a slow, rusted swooning” is but one lyrical example of how the author lures us into the raw geography at hand.
But Barry also does well deciphering character motivations. This Lennon yearns to record an album, 'Beatlebone', but to accomplish the task he endures a temporary psychosis. “He is aching; he is godhead he is a right bloody monster—but now he is thirty-seven— “
Against the backdrop is the driver Cornelius O’Grady, a man Barry loves carving out in comic detail: “The car has a tiny pea-headed chap inside for a driver.” There is also mention of a dog called Brian Wilson! and in other spots we enjoy references to the like of Kate Bush.
“People go strange out here, John. You wouldn’t be the first and you won’t be the last,” Cornelius warns his boss. He is protective, quirky, cautious and an exquisite foil for a man overwhelmed by life.
The book has an 'Alice in Wonderland' type of allure- although you will have to sub out the Cheshire Cat for talking seals, but they both celebrate the creative spirit through stream of consciousness and pop-up observers.
One such observer was Arthur Janov, who conducted intensive therapy sessions with Lennon, based on Primal Scream therapy, in which a therapist encourages a patient to remember and process early, primitive responses and to let resultant feelings out through actual screaming.
In the novel, the therapist is presented as almost saintly although in real life Janov violated therapist-patient boundaries by videotaping his sessions with Lennon. In the introductory section, he is depicted as innocently as a choir boy: “Dr. Janov wore a crown of beautiful white curls—it shimmered in the sun.”
Barry plays with time, space, fact and fiction here, but he never loses sight of the humanity of his protagonists. And, of course, for the music fan, the story is applicable to so many of our folk/rock heroes in terms of their struggles with fame, fear of losing their creativity and pride/disdain for being perceived as an outsider. And as Barry leads us through this particular journey, he balances regional dialect, profanity and poetry with ease and style.
That said, ‘Beatlebone’ is a great, contemporary read, but I believe a true Lennon fan would get more out of this book than the novice.
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