Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

Young Skins

by Colin Barrett

From a major new talent in international fiction, whom Colm Tóibín has hailed as “exciting and stylistically adventurous,” comes a propulsive, urgent portrait of dislocated Irish youth.

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date March 03, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2332-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

Winner of the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award
Winner of the 2014 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature
Winner of the 2014 Guardian First Book Award

Making an explosive entrance onto the Irish and UK literary scene with rave reviews in the Sunday Times and the Guardian, Colin Barrett’s Young Skins is a stunning introduction to a singular voice in contemporary fiction.

Enter the small, rural town of Glanbeigh, a place whose fate took a downturn with the Celtic Tiger, a desolate spot where buffoonery and tension simmer and erupt, and booze-sodden boredom fills the corners of every pub and nightclub. Here and in the towns beyond, the young live hard and wear the scars. Amongst them, there’s jilted Jimmy, whose best friend, Tug, is the terror of the town and Jimmy’s sole company in his search for the missing Clancy kid; Bat, a lovesick soul with a face like “a bowl of mashed-up spuds” even before Nubbin Tansey’s boot kicked it in; and Arm, a young and desperate criminal whose fate is shaped when he and his partner, Dympna, fail to carry out a job. In each story, a local voice delineates the grittiness of post-boom Irish society. These are unforgettable characters rendered through silence, humor, and violence.

With darkly comic wit, reminiscent of Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned and the power and originality of Claire Wakins’s Battleborn, these six dynamic short stories and one novella occupy the ghostly, melancholic spaces between boyhood and old age. Told in Barrett’s vibrant, distinctive prose, Young Skins is an accomplished and irreverent debut from a brilliant new writer.


“Sharp and lively . . . a rough, charged, and surprisingly fun read.” —Interview

“[Young Skins ]lives up to its laurels . . . exact and poetic . . . One sign of [Barrett’s] striking maturity as a writer is that his characters stay in character . . . A clumsier writer might have made Arm (and other characters besides) an unconvincing juxtaposition of outward violence and inner sentimentality. Mr. Barrett makes him seamless and convincing: brutish but alive . . . Mr. Barrett does foundational things exceedingly well—structure, choices of (and switches in) perspective—without drawing attention to them. These are stories that are likely to be taught for their form . . . His judgment is better than authoritative; it is imaginative and enlarging.” —New York Times

“Sometimes comic, sometimes melancholy, Young Skins touches the heart, as well as the mind.” —Irish American Post

“Young Irish writer Colin Barrett’s subversive short story collection, Young Skins, may very well become my favorite book of 2015 . . . Young Skins heralds a brilliant new age for Irish literature . . . Barrett’s meticulously crafted narratives brim with plucky dialectical poetry so rhythmic it’ll stick in your head like a three-chord punk song. These six stories and one novella brim also with the particular pleasure of a young writer operating with confidence and a wide-open heart. Rightly so: like James Joyce’s Dubliners or Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha before him, Barrett proves that writing what you know can yield subversive and innovative results.” —Bustle

“The collection’s true impact comes in the gifted prose of Barrett, which flourishes in poetic and spare scenes; he is an assured, powerful new literary voice.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“Justly acclaimed for his lyrical, deadpan style by some of the giants of contemporary Irish literature, including Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín, Barrett offers an extraordinary debut that heralds a brutal yet alluring new voice in contemporary fiction.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Barrett knows the woods and roads surrounding Glanbeigh as well as he understands the youth who roam them. This is his territory, his people. He writes with beauty and a toughness that captures the essence of boredom and angst. Barrett has given us moments that resonate true to a culture, a population and a geography that is fertile with the stuff of good fiction.” —Kirkus Reviews

Young Skins knocked me on my ass. It’s moody, funny, vibrant and vivid. It’s beautifully compressed and unafraid to take a bruising or lyrical leap. Colin Barrett has, as they say, talent to burn, but I really hope he doesn’t waste a drop.” —Sam Lipsyte

“Sharp, edgy, heartrendingly provocative. Colin Barrett is a distinctive, exciting new voice out of Ireland.” —David Means, author of Assorted Fire Events

“Colin Barrett, like all great storytellers, has the ability to weave a broader chronicle of Ireland out of stories that remain intimate, powerful and regional. Out of the local, the universal appears. He defines the many shades of the present time and suggests a compelling future. He is a writer to savour and look out for.” —Colum McCann

“Exciting and stylistically adventurous.” —Colm Tóibín

“Many fiction writers are attracted to non-existent but identifiable settings. Thomas Hardy created Wessex, Robert Musil transformed Austria-Hungary into Kakania, and in Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner literally mapped his Yoknapatawpha county. At once Lafayette, Mississippi, and not Lafayette, Mississippi, Yoknapatawpha offered readers a familiar setting without the danger of their imaginations snagging on the join between reality and fiction. Colin Barrett confidently secures this same blend of familiarity and freedom with the first line of his debut short-story collection . . . his stories invite second readings that . . . seem to uncover sentences that weren’t there the first time around. Chekhov once told his publisher that it isn’t the business of a writer to answer questions, only to formulate them correctly. Throughout this extraordinary debut, but particularly in the excellent stories that bookend it, Colin Barrett is asking the right questions.” —The Guardian (UK)

“Colin Barrett’s sentences are lyrical and tough and smart, but there is something more here that makes him a really good writer. His stories are set in a familiar emotional landscape, but they give us endings that are new. What seems to be about sorrow and foreboding turns into an adventure, instead, in the tender art of the unexpected.” —Anne Enright

“Language, structure, style—Colin Barrett has all the weapons at his disposal, and how, and he has an intuitive sense for what a short story is, and what it can do.” —Kevin Barry

“A writer to watch out for.” —Guernica

“How dare a debut writer be this good? Young Skins has all the hallmarks of an instant classic. Barrett’s prose is exquisite but never rarefied. His characters—the damaged, the tender-hearted and the reckless—are driven by utterly human experiences of longing. His stories are a thump to the heart, a mainline surge to the core. His vision is sharp, his wit is sly, and the stories in this collection come alive with that ineffable thing—soul.” —Alison MacLeod (judge of the 2014 Frank O’Connor Award)

“A stunning debut . . . The timeless nature of each story means this collection can—and will—be read many years from now.” —The Sunday Times

“A writer of extraordinary gifts. I loved this compelling and utterly persuasive collection, the strongest debut I’ve read in some years.” —Joseph O’Connor

“Incredible. Human violence, beauty, brilliance of language—this book reminds you of the massive things you can do in short fiction.” —Evie Wyld

“A new fabulous and forensic voice to sing out Ireland’s woes.” —Bernard MacLaverty

“Barrett simply outwrites many of his peers with a chilling confidence that suggests there is far more beneath the surface than merely the viciously effective black humour.” —The Irish Times, Fiction of the Year

“A sustained and brilliant performance by a young writer of remarkable talent and confirmation that Colin is a writer of significance with something important to say . . . [It] is Colin’s mastery of characterisation and his seemingly endless ability to surprise us with the poetry and linguistic inventiveness of his prose that elevates these stories into deftly crafted works of art that are a pleasure to read from start to finish.” —Short Story Ireland

“Raw and affecting . . . Barrett’s use of language is powerful and surprising . . . These stories are moving and memorable and show a writer who understands people, place and the effects of porter on the human psyche.” —Irish Independent

“It isn’t necessarily the job of fiction writers to explain our social landscape, but sometimes the best of them do. Colin Barrett’s short, brutal collection of stories presents clearly and without sentimentality a picture of the young Irish small-town male, in his current crisis of hopelessness and alienation.” —The Irish Times

“Superbly observed . . . Every sentence counts in these mesmerizing stories from an exciting literary author.” —Irish Examiner

“Colin Barrett is a young man in the town of the short story, but it’s fair to say he has the run of the place. This is a joyously fine collection, crackling with energy and verve, fit for the back pocket of anyone who loves a good story well told.” —Jon McGregor

“Should you be surprised that yet another superbly articulate and word-drunk writer has come out of Ireland? Perhaps not; but when that writer’s work is as moving, as funny, as spectacularly evocative as Young Skins, you should be astonished, and amazed, and grateful. Some of the stories in this debut collection are amongst the best in the language. That a young writer possesses a talent this great is a cause for celebration, matched only by his ability to control and harness it. A minute after finishing this book I was itching to read Colin Barrett’s next.” —Niall Griffiths


Winner of the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award
Winner of the 2014 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature
Winner of the 2014 Guardian First Book Award


From “The Clancy Kid”

My town is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk. A roundabout off a national road, an industrial estate, a five-screen Cineplex, a century of pubs packed inside the square mile of the town’s limits. The Atlantic is near; the gnarled jawbone of the coastline with its gull-infested promontories is near. Summer evenings, and in the manure-scented pastures of the satellite parishes the Zen bovines lift their heads to contemplate the V8 howls of the boy racers tearing through the back lanes.

I am young, and the young do not number many here, but it is fair to say we have the run of the place.

It is Sunday. The weekend, that three-day festival of attrition, is done. Sunday is the day of purgation and redress; of tenderized brain cases and see-sawing stomachs and hollow pledges to never, ever get that twisted again. A day you are happy to see slip by before it ever really gets going.

It’s well after 8 pm, though still bright out, the warm light infused with that happy kind of melancholy that attends a July evening in the West. I am sitting with Tug Cuniffe at a table in the alfresco smoking area of Dockery’s pub. The smoking area is a narrow concrete courtyard to the building’s rear, overlooking the town river. Midges tickle our scalps. A candy-stripe canvas awning extends on cantilevers, and now and then the awning ripples, sail-like, in the breeze.