Wild Houses by Colin Barrett - review by Paul Genders

Paul Genders

A Side of Mayo

Wild Houses


Jonathan Cape 272pp £16.99

Colin Barrett belongs to the tiny number of contemporary writers who have built a substantial profile on the basis of their short stories alone. There may be no lack of authors churning out highly polished fictional miniatures – creative writing schools, where the form serves an obvious pedagogic function, see to that. But it’s rare to show such facility with the short story that you can publish two acclaimed collections, as Barrett has done with Young Skins (2013) and Homesickness (2022), before getting around to producing a novel. 

Wild Houses is, as with many of Barrett’s short fictions, set in his native County Mayo, in the west of Ireland. The action unfolds over a summer weekend in the town of Ballina during the Salmon Festival, ‘the biggest local event of the year’. Whatever deeper civic or folkloric importance this holiday has, the novel is concerned purely with the opportunity the festival gives the town’s youngsters to get drunk and throw all-night drugs parties. Not, though, that Barrett’s cast of teens and twentysomethings ever seem to do much with themselves besides that.

Dev Hendrick, who dropped out of school because of bullying and then quit his factory job without a thought, has found a career structure of sorts by lending his home for storage purposes to a couple of drug-dealing brothers, Gabe and Sketch Ferdia. When, however, the Ferdias turn up at

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