Roddy Doyle 1958-
Irish novelist, screenwriter, playwright, short story writer, children's writer, and biographer.
The following entry presents an overview of Doyle's career through 2002. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 81.
Doyle emerged among a group of young Irish writers during the 1980s to become one of the most popular Irish novelists of his era. His Barrytown trilogy—The Commitments (1987), The Snapper (1990), and The Van (1991)—focuses on a working-class Irish community, illuminating the behaviors and dreams of his characters through their actions and use of vernacular. Doyle has been noted for his recurring use of Gaelic and Irish idiom in his novels, though some critics have taken issue with his characters's liberal use of obscenity. Dialogue is one of the major driving forces behind Doyle's narratives, a technique which has caused many reviewers to label his fiction as “cinematic.” This comparison is not unjustified—Doyle has written the screenplays for the film adaptations of his Barrytown trilogy as well as writing the acclaimed television miniseries Family (1994), which presented a graphic portrayal of many social issues that affect modern Irish families, including domestic violence, alcoholism, and drug use.
Doyle was born in Dublin, Ireland, on May 8, 1958, to Rory Doyle, a printer, and Ita Bolger Doyle, a secretary. He was raised north of Dublin in the working-class suburb of Kilbarrack in housing projects erected during the post-World War II housing boom. After attending St. Fintan's Christian Brothers School in Sutton, Doyle continued his education at University College, Dublin, earning a B.A. in English and geography in 1979. He returned to Kilbarrack after graduation and began teaching at Greendale Community School. Doyle earned the nickname “Punky Doyle” from his students for his penchant for wearing leather jackets and jeans to class. In 1978 Doyle joined the Irish Socialist Party and remained a member until 1982. After contributing short articles to student magazines such as In Dublin, Doyle wrote his first novel Your Granny Was a Hunger Striker, but was never able to find a publisher for the work. In 1987 Doyle founded his own publishing company, King Farouk Press, and printed three thousand copies of his second novel The Commitments. He distributed the novel to local bookstores and attracted a large underground audience. Eventually the London publishing firm Heinemann bought the rights and re-released the novel which became a critical and popular success. The Commitments became the first novel in Doyle's Barrytown trilogy—the third novel in the series, The Van was shortlisted for Britain's Booker Prize. His novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize in 1993, and Doyle subsequently resigned his teaching position to focus on writing full-time. In 1994 Doyle wrote the screenplay for a controversial four-part television miniseries, Family, about an abusive husband and his family, which aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom and the Radio Telefís Éireann (RFC) in Ireland. The critical reaction to Family inspired a string of political debates in Ireland, with some complaining that the series portrayed the working-class Irish in an overly-negative light. Shortly after the miniseries aired, Doyle joined Irish protests for women's rights, abortion rights, and the legalization of divorce, which was illegal in Ireland until 1995. Doyle married Belinda Moller in 1989, with whom he has two sons, Rory and Jack. Aside from his novels and screenplays, Doyle is also an accomplished playwright—his plays Brownbread (1987) and War (1989) enjoyed successful runs at Dublin's SFX Centre. He has also written for children—his book The Giggler Treatment (2000) was shortlisted for a W. H. Smith Children's Book of the Year Award in 2001.
In Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, “Barrytown” stands as a fictional counterpart for Dublin's Northside. The Barrytown community is comprised of mostly uneducated working-class characters, many of whom are unemployed or underemployed, struggling to find the material means necessary for survival. However, although Doyle's characters are aware of their dire economic situations, they refuse to be defeated. Instead they find comfort in humor, seek help from communal networks of friends and family, and display unmitigated pride in their regional dialect. The Commitments focuses on Jimmy Rabbitte Jr., who assembles and manages a white Irish soul band called The Commitments. The band idolizes 1960s American Motown music, and Jimmy believes that the group will not only bring him financial success, but will also give him a vehicle for his political beliefs. After becoming a local success in Dublin, The Commitments fall apart due to internal fighting, jealousy, and personal differences. The Snapper continues Doyle's focus on the Barrytown community, following the experiences of Sharon Rabbitte, Jimmy's unwed sister, who is pregnant as a result of having been raped by a family friend. Sharon refuses to tell her parents who the rapist is, and her father, Jimmy Sr., becomes obsessed with identifying the culprit. As Sharon tries to keep her father from finding out the truth, they both realize that they need each other for emotional support during Sharon's pregnancy. The final installment of the Barrytown trilogy, The Van, chronicles struggles of Jimmy Sr. and his friend Bimbo as they deal with Ireland's massive unemployment rate during the early 1990s. The two friends form a business partnership and buy a catering van to sell fish and chips. Mirroring his son's experiences in The Commitments, Jimmy Sr.'s business and friendship with Bimbo is consumed by bickering, greed, and jealousy. Doyle also composed the screenplays for the film adaptations of his Barrytown trilogy—The Commitments adaptation was released in 1991, The Snapper in 1993, and The Van in 1996. Doyle's 1993 novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is also set in Barrytown, though it represents a tonal and thematic shift from the previous novels' focus on modern Irish culture and dialogue-driven stories. Set in 1968, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha views the deterioration of a marriage told from the first-person perspective of a ten-year-old boy. As Paddy Clarke tries to understand his parents' behavior, he must also deal with his burgeoning adolescence, neighborhood bullies, and the political environment in Ireland in the late 1960s.
Doyle's television miniseries Family recounts the physical, sexual, and emotional violence within a working-class Irish family, the Spencers. Told in four parts, the story is related from the perspective of four different family members—Charlo, Paula, Nicola, and John Paul—illuminating the cycle and inevitable escalation of violence in an abusive situation. Doyle followed up the miniseries with The Woman Who Walked into Doors (1996), a novel featuring the same characters as Family but related solely from viewpoint of Paula Spencer. The book opens with Paula being informed of the death of Charlo, her estranged husband. Through flashbacks, Paula reflects on her life before Charlo, the beginnings of Charlo's physical and emotional abuse, and the moment when she finally left him. In 1997 Doyle contributed to Finbar's Hotel, a short story collection that published stories from seven different Irish novelists—Dermot Bolger, Joseph O'Connor, Anne Enright, Jennifer Johnston, Hugo Hamilton, Colm Tóibín, and Doyle—but withheld which author had written which story. Each story in the collection is set around an aging hotel in Dublin on the eve of its demolition. Doyle turned his attention to Irish history in A Star Called Henry (1999), the first novel in a projected trilogy titled The Last Roundup. The novel relates the early life of Henry Smart. Born in 1901, Henry lives on the streets from a young age and becomes engrossed in the dark underworld of early-twentieth-century Irish slums. As Henry grows older, he finds himself intertwined with many of the most significant moments in Irish history including The Easter Rebellion of 1916 and the formation of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 2002 Doyle published a biography of his parents titled Rory & Ita, which follows their lives from their individual childhoods through their marriage. Each chapter shifts alternately between his mother and father's perspective, showing how they both view their relationship and life in twentieth-century Ireland. Doyle has also written three children's works, Not Just for Christmas (1999), The Giggler Treatment, and Rover Saves Christmas (2001).
Doyle's novels have attracted a wide popular audience in Ireland and abroad, with readers praising the Barrytown trilogy's humor and thoughtful examination of familial relationships. However, some critics have offered mixed assessments of the Barrytown novels, faulting Doyle for weak plots and gratuitous use of slang and profanity. Other reviewers have countered that Doyle's emphasis on dialogue and local vernacular are the defining and most appealing aspects of his prose. Such commentators have noted that the dense language in The Commitments and The Van has allowed Doyle to create a protracted study of a very specific Irish community. Though the Barrytown trilogy has been most frequently lauded for its humor and wit, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha has been considered a more serious work by critics, who have commended Doyle's new focus on social issues. While some have faulted the novel for its lack of introspection, episodic plot, and reliance on anecdotes, a number of reviewers have praised the work's realism, effective use of dialect, and engaging descriptions of boyhood and working-class Ireland. The miniseries Family has attracted harsh criticism from critics and popular audiences alike. Many have argued that the series portrayed the working-class Irish as foul-mouthed, illiterate alcoholics and fostered negative cultural stereotypes. Others have disagreed, complimenting the series for drawing focus to important, though unsavory, aspects of Irish society. Women's rights advocates, in particular, have commended Family for highlighting the plight of battered women. The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Doyle's narrative continuation of Family, has been more generally accepted by critics and readers, with commentators noting his skill at creating a believable female narrator. Some reviewers have found fault with the novel's lack of sentiment, though others have argued that Doyle's dispassionate authorial voice captures the emotional emptiness of his protagonist. Doyle's historical novel A Star Called Henry has been met with a mixed critical reception. While some critics have maintained that Doyle's attempts at magic realism fail and that the story is implausible, many reviewers have complimented his thematic shift and welcomed his insights into Irish history.
Brownbread (play) 1987
*The Commitments (novel) 1987
War (play) 1989
†The Snapper (novel) 1990
‡The Van (novel) 1991
The Barrytown Trilogy: The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van (novels) 1992
Brownbread and War (plays) 1992
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (novel) 1993
§Family (screenplay) 1994
The Woman Who Walked into Doors (novel) 1996
Finbar's Hotel [with others] (short stories) 1997
Not Just for Christmas (juvenilia) 1999
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SOURCE: Mannes-Abbott, Guy. “Dubliners.” New Statesman and Society 4, no. 165 (23 August 1991): 35-6.
[In the following review, Mannes-Abbott offers a positive assessment of The Van, praising the novel as humorous and deftly written.]
Roddy Doyle is a phenomenon. A comic Irish writer without immediate precedent, his cultish antidotes to cynicism are an extraordinary popular success. His first novel, The Commitments, met with wild enthusiasm, and the dubious honour of being filmed by Alan Parker (for release in October). The Snapper followed and, with a BBC adaptation of that under way, Doyle has now produced a third view of the Rabbitte family...
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SOURCE: Fitzgerald, Penelope. “Fried Nappy.” London Review of Books 13, no. 17 (12 September 1991): 16.
[In the following review, Fitzgerald maintains that The Van showcases Doyle's sharp wit and ear for dialogue.]
This is the third and last of Roddy Doyle's novels about the Rabbitte family of Barrymount, an unprepossessing council estate suburb of North Dublin, much like Kilbarrack, where Doyle was born himself. Barrymount, although by no means a foul rag-and-bone shop, is a place for dreams to start. In The Commitments young Jimmy Rabbitte decides that Ireland is ready for soul music and gets his group together. Just as there seems to be a chance...
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SOURCE: Appelo, Tim. “Down the Rabbitte Hole.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (20 September 1992): 3, 15.
[In the following review, Appelo applauds Doyle's use of the vernacular as well as his narrative structure in The Van.]
Unlike the heroes of his first novel The Commitments—the Irish soul band now of motion-picture fame—Roddy Doyle has perfect pitch from the get-go. He can write pages of lifelike, impeccably profane dialogue without a false note or a dull fill, economically evoking every lark and emotional plunge in the life of an entire Irish family. The Van is the third volume in a trilogy about the family Rabbitte.
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SOURCE: Shone, Tom. “What It's Like to Be Ten—Brilliant.” Spectator 270, no. 8605 (12 June 1993): 48-9.
[In the following review, Shone compliments Doyle's economy of detail and the balance of humor and humanity in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.]
Have you heard the one about the Irish novelist who was so good for a laugh nobody could take him seriously? He wrote a novel which covered the holocaust, the second world war, heaven, hell and the struggle for Irish independence—and all that by page 30. I'm sorry, bad joke. All these subjects are not the themes of Roddy Doyle's new novel, rather, they're the homework (‘eccer’) of its ten-year-old narrator—which says a...
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SOURCE: O'Hagan, Andrew. “Eating Jesus.” London Review of Books 15, no. 13 (8 July 1993): 17.
[In the following review, O'Hagan reflects on the parallels between his own childhood and the fictitious childhood of Paddy Clarke in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, complimenting Doyle's ability to realistically narrate the novel from a ten-year-old's perspective.]
When I made my First Communion, a famously bitter Catholic aunt of mine took me into a side-chapel of our church. She wrapped me up in her arms, right in the middle of all her perfumery, straightened my red sash, and told me I was ‘blessed, blessed, blessed’. Then out of her bag she handed me a wooden...
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SOURCE: Shepherd, Allen. “Never the Same Again.” New England Review 16, no. 2 (spring 1994): 163-67.
[In the following review, Shepherd commends Doyle's poignancy and wit in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.]
By the time I reached the end of my Spring travels I had endured a number of untoward events. Aer Lingus had lost both of my bags, leading to a substantial, unplanned investment in Irish underwear; then on a ferry across the Shannon an oil truck had rolled into and profoundly pleated the back end of my rented Nissan, leaving the car, without tail lights, illegal, and me, once more, separated from my luggage; and finally the IRA had blown up a large part of my hotel in...
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SOURCE: Hutchings, William. Review of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle. World Literature Today 68, no. 4 (autumn 1994): 810-11.
[In the following review, Hutchings praises Doyle's ability to invoke the narrative voice of a ten-year-old boy in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and contends that Doyle skillfully renders Paddy's poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland.]
“The past is a foreign country,” L. P. Hartley wrote in the opening line of The Go-Between (1953); “they do things differently there.” This observation applies not only to the collective or societal past but to the individual and psychological past as well: childhood remains—to a...
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SOURCE: Doyle, Roddy, and Colin Lacey. “Roddy Doyle: Ruffling Feathers, after a Booker.” Publishers Weekly 243, no. 13 (25 March 1996): 55-6.
[In the following interview, Doyle discusses the controversy surrounding his television mini-series Family, his novel The Woman Who Walked into Doors, and his affinity for writing new novels featuring characters from previous works.]
Given Ireland's pride in its artists, it's an alarming and bizarrely incongruous vision: Roddy Doyle, author of the 1993 Booker Prize winner, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, successful screenwriter and one of the country's most popular contemporary novelists, slips furtively through...
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SOURCE: Broughton, Trev. “Taking a Battering.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4854 (12 April 1996): 24.
[In the following review, Broughton examines the patterns of abuse and their effect on the protagonist in The Woman Who Walked into Doors.]
Even before the massive success of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle's 1993 Booker Prize winner, he had become a household name, bringing a new virtuosity to Dublin bar-room repartee. In his latest book, Doyle could scarcely be accused of playing to a winning formula. Gone is the gallery of rascally kids, tarts with hearts and game, foul-mouthed old bollixes. Gone too are the set pieces: the world set to rights over a...
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SOURCE: Prose, Francine. “Molly Bloom Said ‘Yes,’ Paula O'Leary Says ‘Maybe.’” Los Angeles Times Book Review (5 May 1996): 3, 8.
[In the following review, Prose asserts that The Woman Who Walked into Doors is both poignant and realistic, extolling Doyle's ability to narrate a story from a woman's viewpoint.]
Reading The Woman Who Walked into Doors, one almost can't help making chilling comparisons between its tough, buoyant narrator and James Joyce's Molly Bloom. In his new novel, Roddy Doyle (author of The Commitments and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, winner of Britain's Booker Prize) has given us another powerfully memorable Irish...
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SOURCE: Cosgrove, Brian. “Roddy Doyle's Backward Look: Tradition and Modernity in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 85, no. 339 (autumn 1996): 231-42.
[In the following essay, Cosgrove contrasts traditional Irish ideology and modern Irish thought in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, comparing Paddy Clarke's childhood and subsequent loss of innocence with the young adults in Ireland who embrace modern ideals and pop culture.]
ENGAGING WITH IRISH MODERNITY: DOYLE AND THE NEW DUBLIN SUBURBS
One of the major difficulties in any attempt to interpret the work of Roddy Doyle is that he appears to have no clear...
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SOURCE: Keen, Suzanne. “Irish Troubles.” Commonweal 123, no. 17 (11 October 1996): 21-3.
[In the following review, Keen comments that Doyle's strength lies in his ability to propel narratives with dialogue, but maintains that the story of The Woman Who Walked into Doors cannot adequately be told solely with dialogue.]
I have read each of Roddy Doyle's novels (The Commitments , The Snapper , The Van , and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha ) with increasing enjoyment and admiration, so it is with real disappointment that I must report that in The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Doyle reaches the limits of his...
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SOURCE: Henry, Rick. Review of The Woman Who Walked into Doors, by Roddy Doyle. Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 2 (summer 1997): 282-83.
[In the following review, Henry expresses dislike for the protagonist of The Woman Who Walked into Doors but praises Doyle's skill and adeptness for creating an engrossing and realistic story.]
Roddy Doyle's fifth novel [The Woman Who Walked into Doors] concerns the life and love of Paula Spencer, a thirty-nine-year-old woman, alcoholic, mother of four (her fifth, a miscarriage the result of her husband's fist to her stomach), cleaning woman, widow. Paula tells her own story, a telling made possible by the...
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SOURCE: Piroux, Lorraine. “‘I'm Black an' I'm Proud’: Re-inventing Irishness in Roddy Doyle's The Commitments.” College Literature 25, no. 2 (spring 1998): 45-57.
[In the following essay, Piroux discusses the characterizations in The Commitments and investigates the Irish working-class protagonists' similarities to the oppressed African American culture of the 1960s.]
In recent years Irish artistic productions in literature and popular culture have challenged contemporary revisionist readings of Irish history by engaging again with the issue of nationalism. Against today's prevailing climate in historical discourse where Ireland's colonial...
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SOURCE: O'Toole, Fintan. “Working-Class Dublin on Screen: The Roddy Doyle Films.” Cineaste 24, nos. 2-3 (spring-summer 1999): 36-9.
[In the following essay, O'Toole explores recurring themes in Doyle's films, contrasting elements that he contends are purely Irish with themes that hold a more universal appeal.]
A smart young man with a head full of foreign notions and an eye for controversy writes a drama about the breakup of an Irish family. He pretends that its material is a realistic vision of Irish life, a mirror held up to the nation, but it is really a fairly obvious adaptation of themes that are current in the world of international entertainment. It shows a...
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SOURCE: Hopkin, James. “Mired in History.” New Statesman 128, no. 4452 (6 September 1999): 54-5.
[In the following review, Hopkin offers a mixed assessment of A Star Called Henry, finding the novel interesting but stylistically problematic.]
There is something paradoxical about Roddy Doyle's fiction, both in the writing itself and in its critical reception. His novels are beguiling, exuberant and tightly plotted yet, at the same time, they're often clumsy, sentimental and a little too forced to be affecting. He's been vilified (for being populist) and honoured (1993 Booker prize), while many considered his last work, The Woman Who Walked into Doors,...
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SOURCE: Charles, Ron. “A Bright Light in Ireland's Cloudy Sky.” Christian Science Monitor 91, no. 204 (16 September 1999): 16.
[In the following review, Charles praises Doyle for his strong narrative and storytelling skills in A Star Called Henry.]
I learned about the IRA in 1982 during lunch at the Hard Rock Café in central London. During my hamburger, a bomb blew up a crowded bandstand and killed six musicians in Regent's Park. Sound of the distant explosion startled us, but we laughed it off and went on with our meal.
A classmate of mine, though, was listening to the band that hot summer day. Shattered by her vision of the carnage, she quit...
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SOURCE: Skloot, Floyd. “Irish Myth-Making and Myth-Breaking.” Sewanee Review 107, no. 4 (fall 1999): c-civ.
[In the following review, Skloot applauds the historical insight Doyle provides in A Star Called Henry, the first of a projected trilogy set in nineteenth-century Ireland.]
The Irish novelist Roddy Doyle has been popular and controversial long enough that it can be difficult to believe he is only forty-one. Each novel in his best-selling Barrytown Trilogy, The Commitments (1989), The Snapper (1990), and The Van (1991), was turned into a film. Then in 1993 Doyle demonstrated his literary cachet by winning a Booker Prize for...
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SOURCE: Levi, Jonathan. “Beauty and the Beast.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (3 October 1999): 2.
[In the following review, Levi compliments A Star Called Henry but argues that the novel is predictable and less edgy than Doyle's earlier work.]
We know their dream; enough To know they dreamed and are dead; And what if excess of love Bewildered them till they died? I write it out in verse— MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse Now and in time to be, Wherever green is worn, Are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.
—William Butler Yeats, “Easter 1916”
The details, even the fuzzy...
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SOURCE: Wilson-Smith, Anthony. “The Seeds of Terror.” Maclean's 112, no. 43 (25 October 1999): 93-4.
[In the following review, Wilson-Smith evaluates the strengths of A Star Called Henry and praises Doyle's creation of such an empathetic protagonist.]
Henry Smart is a hard boy, an IRA terrorist and an amoral assassin. He is also a surprisingly sympathetic figure whose motives for violence are not hard to understand. From the moment he is born in 1901, the hero of Roddy Doyle's breathtaking new novel, A Star Called Henry, enjoys only one week of uninterrupted grace and affection—the first seven days of his life. Then his father, a one-legged bouncer...
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SOURCE: Elie, Paul. “Ireland without Tears.” Commonweal 126, no. 20 (19 November 1999): 57-8.
[In the following review, Elie commends Doyle's prose in A Star Called Henry but notes that the novel's characterizations seem superficial and less than memorable.]
The early novels of Roddy Doyle were recognizable simply by the way they were laid out in type: long kite-strings of dialogue running down the pages, one- and two-word tags of speech set off by dashes and surrounded by gales of white space. The books were so slim, so light, so casually done, so effortlessly enjoyable, that at first it was hard to believe a big international publisher had troubled to...
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SOURCE: Hutchings, William. Review of A Star Called Henry, by Roddy Doyle. World Literature Today 74, no. 3 (summer 2000): 594.
[In the following review, Hutchings lauds A Star Called Henry as realistic and engrossing novel, though notes that the work contains several passages of confusing surrealism.]
Described on its title page as “Volume One of The Last Roundup,” Roddy Doyle's novel A Star Called Henry continues his remarkable series of Dublin-based first-person narratives that has given extraordinarily insightful, lyrical, and poignant voice to characters who, for a variety of reasons, live in the shadows of their society: a...
(The entire section is 941 words.)
SOURCE: Rourke, Mary. “When Irish Eyes Were Smiling, Laughing, and Crying.” Los Angeles Times (15 November 2002): E31.
[In the following review, Rourke praises Doyle's portrayal of his family history in Rory & Ita, noting that Rory and Ita—Doyle's parents—make entertaining and compelling subjects.]
Rory Doyle is one of the funniest men on Earth, but who would ever know if his novelist son Roddy hadn't written Rory & Ita? The younger Doyle is best known for his fiction about the Irish, most recently A Star Called Henry (1998), based on the Easter Uprising of 1916.
In Rory & Ita, Doyle goes straight to the...
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SOURCE: Moore, Charlotte. “In Their Own Words.” Spectator 290, no. 9095 (30 November 2002): 54.
[In the following review, Moore offers a positive assessment of Rory & Ita and compliments Doyle's efforts in compiling the biography.]
My first memory is of the stone floor. Stone slabs. And I remember … soldiers marching, with their leggings and boots, and dragging cannon guns with mules, and the noise and the screeching and the roars of the men. And another memory is of my Grandfather Mullally eating griddle cake in our house in Terenure, and drinking his tea out of a saucer.
Either you like this kind...
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