Young Skins, by Colin Barrett - Book Review

I hear a lot of people say they don’t care for short stories.  I never quite understood this. Short stories can be as beautifully written as a novel, with the added benefit of feeling accomplished - getting through a story in a short period of time. It’s perfect for those with short attention spans or who read multiple things at once. But that’s just me.

Young Skins is a collection of short stories and one novella. It’s the debut book from Irish writer Colin Barrett, and it’s completely absorbing. Barrett combines edgy and prosaic prose with lyrical descriptions of the stories’ backdrop, placing the reader in clear view. The title, Young Skins, refers to the 20- and 30-something year old lads as the protagonist of each tale. Most of these young men live in the small Irish town of Glanbeigh, rarely hold traditional jobs, and find themselves in and out of conflict - with the law, business dealings, friends, relationships and alcohol. They are gas station attendants, bouncers, fathers and criminals. There is a melancholy tone, and you can feel the gray clouds of Ireland hovering just overhead. Barrett ends each of his stories rather anticlimactically; and none with a fairly tale ending. 

Young Skins: Stories
By Colin Barrett

Common throughout, Barrett skillfully structures each story with loneliness, toughness and perseverance. One of the book’s charms for me is the cadence of the Irish dialect and the quick dialogue, which Barrett brings realistically to life with a combination of abrasiveness and sensitivity. The stories are dark, but the style is raw, honest and refreshing.

Colin Barrett grew up in County Mayo, where most of his stories take place. Originally released in the UK over a year ago, Young Skins has already received acclaim and three lauded writing prizes - Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

Published: 2014
Publisher: Black Cat / Grove Atlantic

Vickie's rating: 4 stars