Best known for his dialogue-driven, laugh-

a-line 'Barrytown Trilogy', RODDY DOYLE shifts his style to the darker and more serious subject of Ireland's 20th century history in A Star Called Henry.

Words: Brian Donaldson

Roddy Doyle is swapping the hysterical for the historical. The 40-year-old Dubliner has made a career out of laughter. forcing fun-filled tears to trickle down many a cheek since the launch of his career in l987 with The Commitments. He even titled a book after the process Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and showed that the popular can still win literary prizes. becoming. in 1993. the biggest seller ever to snap tip the Booker.

However. his faithful band of readers had the smile wiped from their faces after opening 1996‘s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. ‘Not a barrel of laughs. it has to be said.‘ admits the author of his novel concerning the distinctly unamusing topics of domestic violence. miserable alcoholism and the struggle to achieve a sense of dignity.

And now. rather than doing some kind of back-to-basics campaign and writing about the life of horses on debris-filled housing estates. he is launching himself into nothing less than a three-part analysis of Ireland‘s 20th century story as seen through the eyes of Henry Smart.

Again. A Star Cal/ed Henry is nothing that will require major surgery to rebuild your sides. but it is a major piece of writing. The first part of the expected trilogy is densely written but imbued with a rigorous intelligence and. perhaps the main thing. still eminently accessible to the masses.

Henry is born into the Dublin slums of l‘)()l. His father is a one-legged bouncer at the local brothel: his mother is a button-maker mourning the loss of some of her children. Growing up is hard to do. but Henry is forced to mature with haste and the route he follows is to become a robber. a beggar. a rebel and a killer. involved in the Easter Rising and becoming one of Michael Collins's closest confidantes.

‘Because of the historical context and. throuin that. the

111 THE US? 26 Aug—9 Sep 1999


'I've always felt that my books were political with a small "p".' Roddy Doyle


lack of visibility. there‘s more description than I'd written in the past.‘ notes Doyle on the difference in his approach to the trilogy to be known overall as The Last Round Up. ’I‘ve never forced the issue. but I've always felt that my books were political with a small "p" it was tip to me to determine how much. This is political with a capital

And historical with a capital ‘H‘. In Doyle's experience. the teaching of lrish history in schools shows slavering enthusiasm for some eras (the mythic Celtic past) . while others (basically anything after 19l6) are swamped by silence. Doyle sees those silences being filled with echoes from the past. ‘When I was doing the research. I noticed that in 1921 Lloyd George would not talk to terrorists until they had handed in their guns. That sounded familiar. The same noises are being made today. virtually down to the syllable.‘

As well as being a grand work following a nation’s path of history. it is also the dissection of a city. Writing about Dublin inevitably means being bathed in the heat of a blistering back catalogue. ‘While I was writing the book. I re-read Duh/{nary and Ulvsess. just to re-acquaint myself with the geography.‘ Doyle recalls. “And Flann O’Brien wrote a marvellous absurd version of Dublin in A! Swim- l’ii-o-Birds. where he has cowboys and gunfights l remember. as a youngster. reading it up a tree and getting drtmk.‘

And as if someone was summarising Roddy Doyle's own work. he adds: ‘lt just showed that you could take pretty mundane places and plant something extraordinary in there.‘

A Star Called Henry is published by Jonathan Cape on Thu 2 Sep. priced £16.99. Roddy Doyle is the subject of a BBC Omnibus special on Mon 20 Sep. A Star Called Henry will be read as a Radio 4 Late Book from Mon 11 Oct.

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