Reflections in a Tar Barrel

Published by - Altera Publishing House, Sofia, 2007.

(Bulgarian translation by Vergil Nemchev).

This novel caught the imagination of the Bulgarian public when it was launched at the Appolonia Arts Festival. That it was published in Bulgarian before English, that the Bulgarian rights were sold for five cases of vintage wine in a Sofia pub, all added to the mystique of a novel, the hero of which is a young man with a learning disability but with a richly endowed capacity for mystical speculation.

Does every human being think the body he or she inhabits is ugly? - The most beautiful fashion-model develops eating disorders because she believes her body to be flawed. - The hero of this novel, nick-named Lofty, thinks the Creator has dealt him a poor hand, physically and intellectually, and embarks on a campaign to thwart the designs of this same Creator.

His campaign sees him combine the roles of hawker in religious goods and keeper of a mobile brothel. Because of his eccentric manner, people consider him a half-wit. And his school experiences persuade him that this estimate is true. Yet, in a tragi-comic way, his untutored mind grapples with the gigantic themes, the nature of God and creation, death and reincarnation, Einsteinian time, and he arrives at his own world-view, his own mystical insights.

Set in the mid-seventies, this novel explores the world through the eyes of this eccentric young man, from the West of Ireland to Paris and Lourdes. The relationship he strikes up with a prostitute on the streets of Paris leads back to the woman-starved West of Ireland and into a sequence of events which hurtle towards disaster.

From the Bulgarian reviews of Reflections in a Tar Barrel:

    This new book by Jack Harte rearranges the world as we know it. The petty trader of religious objects, Tommy Loftus, has his own idea of what forgiveness, charity, and redemption are, and what is wrong with the ‘perfect’ model that God used to create the world. The Irishman Jack Harte has already won the reputation of a fascinating story-teller on the Bulgarian book market. This title is the pilot for Altera’s new “World Novels” series.
      - Dnevnik Daily
    Book of the Week. The story of Tommy Loftus starts somewhere in the end – in the end of Tommy’s life, the edge of the precipice, the end of faith – in order to reach the catharsis of a new beginning. The metaphor of the tar barrel is one of the strengths of this brutal, alternative, and hellishly provocative theological interpretation of the Christian dogma.
      - Dnes
    In his war on God Tommy Loftus becomes a holy man. For his fellow people in the Irish countryside he manages to do a lot more than the local priests, giving them the wonder of hope and the illusion of bliss, because “hell is nothing more than paradise without the glow”.
      - Kafene
    Without any doubt Jack Harte is in the tradition of Joyce, Becket, Shaw…because of his ability to sharpen the language and to position it between irony, nostalgia, and absurdity; because of the hypnosis of death and pain; because of the obsession with belief; because of the articulation of the scorching pain, the instinct for suicide, the feeling of being lost and deserted. It is this mixture of darkness and enlightenment, sadness and hope, which is the essence of ‘Reflections in a Tar Barrel’.
      - Kapital

Read some of the reviews of Reflections in a Tar Barrel online:

    In the past few months, this book has been entered on Goodreads. This is what Bulgarian readers are saying today, six years after the book was published: Goodreads

...back to Publications