Borstal Boy

BehanThe Irish playwright and novelist, Brendan Behan, was arrested in Liverpool with a suitcase full of high explosives. He was only sixteen at that time in 1939, but was full of the revolutionary spirit and the cause of the IRA.  Behan was underage and was remanded to what we now call reform school but in Great Britain is official called the Borstal Institutions.

Borstal Boy is Brendan Behan’s autobiographical account of his experiences in the Borstal, including his early detention, trial, incarceration, and release. I was surprised that this book didn’t have a greater exposure and following. Behan is an excellent writer, using clear prose that subtly sings to the reader. The narrative is engaging, human, and educational, the themes are universal and even the seamier parts are delivered with forthrightness while at the same time not becoming sordid. Most of the less gentile speech is smoothed over by the author’s representation of slang and regional dialect. Oh, and there are a goodly number of Irish songs woven into the narrative, some well-known, others more topical and specifically Irish (Behan was an excellent singer).

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