Waiting for Godot has slipped in and out of my mind several times in the past month; waiting can be an oddly repetitive act: standing still, feeling time pass, becoming impatient, resigning oneself to the wait, standing still, feeling the time pass, and so on. It amplified in my memory when I read Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, his 2019 novel in which two middle-aged men are waiting in a Spanish port city, waiting for the night boat to Tangiers – or from, even – and waiting to see if one of the men’s daughters, Dilly, is on it. She ran away some time ago, and the men are hopeful that she will be here; they are simultaneously completely out of options.
Charlie tries again.
Hola? Excuse me? Trying to find out about this next boat coming in, this boat from Tangier? Or ... going out?
A blue silence; a gesture.
Charlie looks back to his friend and mimics the informaciónista’s shrug.
All I’m getting here is the shoulders, Maurice.
Habla Inglés is what you say to him, Charlie.
But Charlie throws up his hands and shuffles back to the bench.
It’s this “blue silence” which permeates the 214-page book. The two men wait on that bench for several days, smoking and reminiscing. The chapters alternate between the stationery bench and their reckless, haunted pasts that they still haven’t been able to run away from; in fact it’s their past actions that have brought them to this dock, hoping to prevent the next big mistake in their lives. It’s also, I’d like to think, a reference to his much-touted 2015 novel Beatlebone, in which, right on the first page, the protagonist “hears a blue yonderly note from somewhere, perhaps it’s from within”.
I read Night Boat to Tangier continuously, always wondering if they would find the girl, and always wondering at their comfort in the emptiness and crowd around them on the dock. It certainly resonates with what I’m feeling nowadays, sometimes alone with my thoughts, and sometimes claustrophobic! Barry is a bizarre, brilliant writer; every scene and paragraph is sparse and rich; slow and swift. Enjoy – and don’t be surprised when you turn “blue” with envy.
Aditi Sriram is the author of Beyond the Boulevards – A Short Biography of Pondicherry.
Read the other articles in The Art of Solitude series here.