Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 743
Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1958. For fourteen years he was a teacher of English and Geography at Greendale Community School, Kilbarrack, in north Dublin, an area of the city he has used as the setting for many of his novels. The first three of theseThe Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van—make up The Barrytown Trilogy, a series that follows the working-class Rabbitte family over a period of several years. The Van was a finalist for the 1991 Booker Prize, awarded to the outstanding novel published in Great Britain each year. Doyle cowrote the screenplay for the film version of The Commitments and also adapted the other two novels for the screen. His fourth novel, Paddy Clarke, ha-ha-ha, won the 1993 Booker Prize and was an international best-seller, as were The Woman Who Walked into Doors and A Star Called Henry. Doyle’s plays for the stage Brownbread and War both enjoyed successful runs in Dublin. He also wrote the four-part television series Family for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Doyle’s first novel, The Commitments, follows a working-class band’s struggle to bring soul music to Dublin. The origins of the band, its rise to brief popularity in northside Dublin dancehalls and clubs, and its eventual breakup are chronicled by the band’s self-styled agent and promoter, Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr. Critics and reviewers praised Doyle’s unsentimental treatment of his characters as well as the realistic dialogue and the gritty humor of the book. In The Snapper, the focus is Jimmy’s sister Sharon, whose pregnancy disrupts not only the family but the neighborhood as a whole, because she refuses to name the child’s father. Much of the comedy here stems from the antics of Jimmy, Sr., who begins the story as the outraged, scandalized patriarch but gradually begins to share the pains and pleasures of Sharon’s pregnancy, monitoring her prenatal diet, serving as her Lamaze partner, and fending off the nosey and the disapproving. Jimmy, Sr., is in turn the protagonist of The Van. His layoff from his job prompts him to buy and refurbish a dilapidated fish-and-chip van, which he and his pal Bimbo maneuver through the Dublin neighborhoods, offering their cheap wares to the unwary and trying to steer clear of the health inspectors.
Doyle’s fourth novel, Paddy Clarke, ha-ha-ha, marked something of a departure for the author, as the story is told by ten-year-old Paddy, a point of view with humor but allowing less of the wild comedy found in The Barrytown Trilogy. Critics found a deeper seriousness than in Doyle’s earlier efforts, employing such terms as “compelling,” “haunting,” and “heartbreaking” to describe Paddy’s coming-of-age narrative.
The Woman Who Walked into Doors is even darker, told by an abused and alcoholic woman who fights to reclaim her dignity. The combined toughness and vulnerability of the heroine, Paula Spencer, makes her one of the most authentic of Ireland’s fictional characters. For Doyle, the achievement confirmed his standing as the leading Irish novelist of his generation. Writing in The Boston Book Review, Elizabeth Berg called The Woman Who Walked into Doors an accurate and sensitive treatment, “an extraordinary novel,” while a reviewer for The Washington Post Book World added that it was “a tour de force of literary ventriloquism.”
In A Star Called Henry, Doyle dramatizes Irish history of the early twentieth century, including the Rebellion of 1916 and the Irish civil war. A picaresque, episodic story, Henry’s narrative is a raucous, irreverent depiction of figures and events long romanticized in Ireland, and though the book was another international best-seller for Doyle, he was criticized in some circles for his gritty demythologizing of such a key episode in his nation’s struggle for independence.
As one of the most popular contemporary Irish writers, Roddy Doyle has risen above criticism of his early novels, which some reviewers maintained were little more than thinly disguised treatments for the screen, long on dialogue and short on narrative or character development. The Barrytown novels, taken as a whole, comprise a realistic, sympathetic but unsparing view of a thoroughly modern Ireland. Subsequent novels prove his unique ability to blend the farcical with the poignant, the comic with the disturbingly accurate. Accessible and entertaining, Doyle’s work continues to examine a wide range of human relations and situations as well—from coming-of-age anxiety and family dynamics to social and historical critique. He is a serious novelist of the highest order.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 257
Roddy Doyle was born May 8, 1958, in Dublin, one of four children born to Rory and Ita Doyle. His father was a printer and his mother worked as a secretary. As a child, Doyle attended schools in the suburbs to the north of the city. He later earned a degree in English and geography from University College, Dublin, and became a teacher. He worked as a schoolteacher from 1979 until 1993, when, after considerable critical and commercial success, he resigned to work full time as a writer.
Doyle seems to have drawn upon the neighbors and neighborhoods of his childhood for his earlier novels, set as they are in Barrytown, a fictional working-class suburb north of Dublin. His interest in portraying the resilience and ingenuity of average people makes this a fertile source of inspiration. Doyle’s work with schoolchildren must have been a direct influence on his highly insightful novel Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha, which portrays the dissolution of a marriage from the point of view of a young boy.
Doyle dabbled in writing for periodicals before seriously attempting to write fiction. His first attempt at a novel was not published, and his second, The Commitments, was originally published by a company that Doyle and a friend began just for that purpose. Printed and distributed on borrowed money, The Commitments eventually attracted the notice of a major publishing house, which republished the novel for a broad and appreciative audience. Although Doyle is one of Ireland’s best-known writers, he has shunned the public limelight and remained a very private person.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 982
Roddy Doyle (doyuhl; in Irish, Ruaidhri O Duill) was born on May 8, 1958, in Kilbarrack, Dublin, Ireland, the third of four children (two daughters and two sons) of Rory Doyle, a printer, and Ita Bolger Doyle, a legal secretary. Kilbarrack is a working-class neighborhood of Dublin, approximately seven miles north of downtown. The vocations of Doyle’s parents likely influenced the type and tenor of his own future life’s work. As a novelist, he depends directly on the work of printers, and he actually printed and privately published the first run of his first novel, The Commitments (1987), in 1985 when he could not initially find a publisher. In addition, his mother’s work for a prestigious south-side Dublin law firm likely provided young Doyle with insights into the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots in contemporary Irish culture, a theme that receives treatment in Doyle’s work and life.
Doyle studied at a national school in Raheny from 1963 to 1971 and then at St. Fintan’s Christian Brothers School in Sutton from 1971 to 1976. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1979 from University College, Dublin, with a double major in English and geography. He returned to his Kilbarrack neighborhood after graduation and taught at Greendale Community School from 1979 to 1993. Doyle seems to have been a passionate and popular teacher of English and geography. Students recall his complaints about the depictions of certain of their fellow Dubliners in the work of countryman James Joyce; his love of all Irish music, traditional and contemporary; and his leather jacket and jeans, which earned him the endearing name of “Punky Doyle” among some of his students.
In the early 1980’s, Doyle began writing short stories and a novel during the evenings and summers in addition to his full-time teaching job. Although Doyle is clearly aware of the impressive corpus of the Irish literary tradition within which he writes, on the few occasions when he has commented on his literary influences, he has referenced mostly American and English novelists, rather than Irish writers, as the source of his ability to believe in his own identity as an author. The plain, colloquial language of novels such as Wise Blood (1952) by Flannery O’Connor, A Proper Marriage (1954) by Doris Lessing, Ragtime (1975) by E. L. Doctorow, and The World According to Garp (1978) by John Irving inspired Doyle to believe that he could render with similarly understated language the north side of Dublin.
Although Doyle seems to have had no grand plan to write a trilogy, his second and third novels continued the saga of three generations of the Rabbitte family, their relatives, and friends in the raw Barrytown neighborhoods, that he started in The Commitments. This setting allows Doyle to contextualize his narratives within all of the social ills that beset Ireland in the latter decades of the twentieth century, including unemployment and underemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, the plight of women, the plight of the family, and the coming-of-age of a new generation of young adults with diminished expectations for the future and sometimes for themselves. In The Snapper (1990), issues of alcohol abuse leading to sexual assault and unplanned pregnancy explain the title of the novel, which is contemporary Irish-English slang for a “wee bairn” of unclear paternal parentage.
The third novel of the Barrytown trilogy, The Van (1991), again shows the indefatigable Barrytown spirit, with two lifelong middle-aged friends engaging in another entrepreneurial foray, a mobile fish-and-chips van, which provides food to neighborhood residents and a livelihood for the two friends and their families. The Van was short-listed for The Man Booker Prize in 1991, the same year that Doyle, with Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais, adapted The Commitments as a screenplay for what became a critically and commercially successful feature film. Indeed, the success of the film created a temporary cottage industry for the all-Irish cast, who performed as The Commitments in major music venues on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for several years following the film’s release.
With Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha (1993), Doyle showed his ability to change his narrative perspective to that of a ten-year-old boy, whose eloquent, epigrammatic narration both knowingly and unknowingly describes the parallel deterioration of his parents’ marriage and of the Irish social and political culture of 1968, the year in which the novel is set. Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha won the Man Booker Prize in 1993, making Doyle the first Irish writer ever to receive the award. The novel went on to become the most commercially successful Man Booker Prize winner up to that time.
The commercial success of the film version of The Commitments, combined with the receipt of the Man Booker Prize, allowed Doyle to retire from teaching and devote his complete professional focus to writing. Doyle authored the screenplay adaptations for The Snapper (1993) and The Van (1996), both of which enjoyed critical acclaim but not as much commercial success as the film adaptation of The Commitments (1991).
The theme of physical and sexual assault of female characters is depicted through the character of Paula Spencer in The Woman Who Walked into Doors (1996). Spencer’s story was continued a decade later in the novel which bears her name, Paula Spencer (2006). Although the poignancy of her plight cannot be denied, Paula, like most of Doyle’s protagonists, confronts and eventually overcomes her considerable challenges. Doyle’s four-part British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) teleplay, Family (1994), reprised the recurrent themes in his novels. By this time, Doyle was actively campaigning for abortion rights, women’s rights, and the legalization of divorce in Ireland.
In 1989, Doyle married Belinda Moller and they had two sons, Rory, born in 1991, and Jack, born in 1992. Although Doyle remains protective of many details of his personal and family life, he has admitted in interviews that since his retirement from teaching in 1993, he generally devotes each weekday until 5 p.m. to writing, at which point he stops in order to make the family dinner with his wife.
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