This has been a big year for literary resurrections of famous men. The Booker Prize went to Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, an epic that centres on the 1976 attempt to assassinate Bob Marley, while the shortlist for the Goldsmiths’ Prize, which recognises experimental fiction, includes Max Porter’s Ted Hughes-conjuring novella Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, and Beatlebone, which summons John Lennon circa 1978.
Of the three, Beatlebone is the most fearless in its advance on an icon. James and Porter keep their daunting subjects at something of a distance, a vortex around which events circle (James), or safely refracted through artfulness (Porter). Kevin Barry, though, storms headlong into the psyche of Lennon. It’s a curious place: Lennon at this point in his history is in retirement, reconciled with Yoko Ono and a full-time father to their son Sean. He is famous, but no longer doing the thing he’s famous for – he simply is a celebrity, on the run from his public and from himself.