See also Karl Wiggins quotation in his review of this book.
This book is one of those marvelous stories we might have missed were it not for
the magic of twitter. Daniel Kenyon has spun a yarn of the Roma and the Irish
Travellers that will wrap itself around you and hold you tight.
Jack Powers wakes up in Yorkshire, but sure it could have been rural Ireland or
Scotland, having had a strange and unexplainable dream. Thus opens ‘The Bare
Knuckle Fighter’ with a bang and a whimper. In short order he loses his mam and
is taken away by “Paddy Powers and his band of outlaw Tinkers.”
‘The Bare Knuckle Fighter’ marries, literally and figuratively the Romany and the Irish
Traveller families, giving us a revealing peek into their lives and customs.
This reviewer especially appreciated the linguistic insights. Kenyon (an
Anglicized version of Keenan) peppers his text with the words and syntax of his
characters. We hear the word omadhan and potcheen variations of the Gaelic words
“amadán” which means idiot or fool and “potín” a 90-proof Irish moonshine. And
we hear lots of Romany words, too, like “gorgio” or “giorgio” – a non Roma
person. Or “chavie,” a Roma boy.
“Then, slowly and clearly he asked Jack to repeat, after him, the first few words of the ancient Romany oath. I chatksi tsinuda de tehara, vai de haino, khal tut. Jack closed his eyes.”
The family and given names in this book are true to their owners, meaning a
Traveller can tell by a surname a person’s origin and ethnicity: Connors,
Jack is a special case. He is an artistic sort with one foot in the spirit world and one foot in the English world. Jack paints and sketches scenes from his dreams and others’ – often places and people he could not have known except by way of the spirit world. He does his best initially to escape or sublimate his Traveller roots.
“His favourite game was to pretend that he had a loving sister called Mary. He would talk to her as though she were really there. This went on for years, until he felt he no longer needed an imaginary sister, or his imagination was no longer pure enough to keep her
alive and so he set her free.” Eventually, though, he finds his Mary, a Chovihani, and finds himself again.
The big impending bare-knuckle boxing
match is the backdrop for the story – ever present and inexorable, we just don’t
know exactly when or where it will happen. When the big men box, the
consequences are surprising and the blows reverberate for
Kenyon’s language is powerful, understated and rich. His characters are truly memorable and some of them truly menacing. The reader can see them in her/his mind’s eye.
‘The Bare Knuckle Fighter’ is a knock out and this reader is very happy to have met the characters in this very unusual book.
Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review has offered and independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.