One of Roddy Doyle’s greatest attributes as a writer is his ear for voice and dialogue, and his first five novels in particular display this gift to excellent effect. With minimal third-person narration, Doyle uses realistic dialogue—such as profanities and regional dialect—to achieve vivid characterization. It is not surprising that several of his novels have been adapted effectively for film, since his dialogue-heavy expository technique is essentially dramatic, or cinematic.
Some commentators, however, claim that Doyle’s emphasis on dialogue detracts from the novels’ plots. Character takes precedence in these novels over author, narrator, and plot. Considered chronologically, Doyle’s novels demonstrate an increasingly complex interaction between dialogue and narration. Because his characters do most of their speaking for themselves, there is little evidence of an authoritative, controlling consciousness in his novels. This technique empowers Doyle’s characters even as it deprives readers of a comforting narrative guide; whether Doyle is using first-person or third-person narration, there is no concrete, objective perspective with which to compare and measure the perspective of the protagonist.
Doyle’s dialogue has attracted much commentary because his characters belong to an economic and social class underrepresented in literature. Prior to Doyle’s Barrytown novels, the contemporary, urban, working class of Dublin was an uncommon subject in the Irish novel.
While several of Doyle’s novels are notable for their treatment of contemporary Dublin, the past plays a vital role throughout his works. In The Commitments, the young protagonist forms a band that plays soul music from the 1960’s, hearkening back to an earlier, perhaps more innocent time. Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha is set in 1968, and young Paddy and his father reflect both on nationalism in Irish history as well as on more contemporary events. The historical novels that comprise the Last Roundup series foreground Doyle’s preoccupation with early twentieth century Ireland and with American culture.
The Barrytown trilogy
Doyle’s interest in the frank exploration of family dynamics is evident in the three novels that make up the Barrytown trilogy. (The three novels were later published in a single volume under the same title.) While the notion of family values is by no means idealized in these novels, Doyle focuses on the large, resilient Rabbitte family, a family of survivors.
These novels display narrative immediacy because of their emphasis on dialogue and a near absence of intrusive narration. This immediacy is intensified by the pervasive contemporary slang and profanity in the dialogue. In The Commitments, young Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr., attempts to bring soul music back to Dublin by bringing together an array of talented musicians (most of them young) and then rehearsing them. He then has to market them as a rhythm-and-blues (R & B) band called the Commitments, to a skeptical public. The trumpet player, an older man who claims friendship with the African American R & B musician Wilson Pickett, is the band’s most direct connection to the tradition they are trying to revive. Jimmy understands that the appeal of this genre is not nostalgia, but rather its association with sex and an affinity he perceives between African American culture and...
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