Sunday, December 05, 2010

McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy

From time to time, I read books that confound me. In my middle-dotage, I've started shoving those books to the side with a phrase along the lines of "There's not enough time in the world to finish tripe like that." Within the first fifty pages of Pete McCarthy's McCarthy's Bar, I found myself wondering what the heck was his point. But I continued. I love Ireland and I'm not averse to drinking. And McCarthy has a way with words and phrases. At that point, I wasn't so sure about his having a way with books, but like I said, I'm not averse to drinking.

Before I'd reached page 100, I had realized it was basically a travelogue. He's driving around Ireland drinking in pubs, visiting stone circles, being accosted by killer cows (ok, not a killer), waxing philosophical and spiritual at times, and sleeping in B&Bs of all sorts. And telling stories about the many, varied people he meets in all these places. I don't really read travelogues too often, but that's fine. I mean, the guy's funny, so why not?

See, this is where I had a problem. McCarthy is funny. I would laugh out loud at times, which can be a little strange when you're sitting among weary commuters heading to or from New York. By page 150 or so, I'd decided that I would finish reading the book even though I was having a hard time justifying it to my inner book-reading snob.

Along the way, I discovered that the book has more going for it than just a travelogue. It really is about learning about your identity. McCarthy's asking, "Where do I belong?" He was born in England, though his family is Irish and he still has cousins and uncles living in Ireland. His accent is English, so there's no BSing about it to the Irish. (He's not visiting the U.S., after all.) And those he meets on his travels include people from Germany, Belgium, Russia... I think there may even have been an Uzbek in there somewhere. And they're becoming Irish — at least their kids are.

So can an English-born guy with Irish roots claim to be Irish? I'll let you read for yourself.

So carry the book with you for a few weeks. I wouldn't recommend you read it all in one sitting, unless you've got a lot of beer and hearty food with you. No, take it with you to a pub, read a few pages over a pint. Mark your place when someone sits down near you and chats (it may help to stop in an Irishy pub; they're everywhere now, which also is a point McCarthy makes), and enjoy the craic.

You may not remember every single person you meet on these pages, but you don't have to. This is one of those books where the journey is far more important than the destination. But when you've reached the last page, you'll realize you've found a nice place for resurrection.