On a limited number of occasions in my life I have been reading a novel or short story and realised the perfection of the author’s description by recognising the place and atmosphere from my own experience. This happened as I read “Atlantic City”, the first story in Kevin Barry’s award winning collection, “There are Little Kingdoms”.
This first story is typical of the majority of pieces in this book; it captures the very essence of its location; it portrays the characters in a vivid reality; it uses the real language of the people involved.
Atlantic City describes the activities, characters and conversations in a makeshift amusement arcade, or more accurately a shed with a pool table and a couple of pin-ball machines in a small rural town. I was very struck by this story as I have spent many hours in just such an establishment and Barry managed to capture the place, its atmosphere and its characters perfectly.
In most of the stories that follow Barry uses the same skill to present the reader with accurate vignettes of life, mostly in Ireland. He describes the location, captures the atmosphere, uses accurate language, and brings real characters to life. His writing is so realistic I could almost name some of the characters in his stories from my own life.
I didn’t feel the last two stories were as strong as the eleven preceding tales, but that does not take away from the power of this marvellous little book of stories.
Kevin Barry won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature on the basis of this collection. He then went on to write a novel, “The City of Bohane”. I have read and enjoyed his novel, and it was based on my experience with this novel that I sought out the author’s collection of short stories. His name has been added to the list of writers whose work I will read as soon as it becomes available.