The trouble with Irish literature is that people believe it’s all good.
James Joyce and Oscar Wilde dance in readers’ minds like manic, drunken sugar plum fairies. Irishness is marketable; the island has a peculiar mystique.
To produce their masterpieces, the great Irish authors left Ireland. The books of Roddy Doyle show what happens if an Irish author can’t escape.
This week we depart Belfast for a trip down the M1 into Dublin. We will stop short of the good part of town, across the River Liffey. Roddy Doyle lives in North Dublin. North Dublin is the crap side of town.
Roddy Doyle’s name is infamous in Ireland. His work is popular and critically successful, but he has a reputation for bad language. It’s inevitable when trying to accurately portray North Dublin dialogue.
Doyle’s books aren’t bad; they are full of crappy lower-class people. Charles Dickens wrote about crappy lower-class people. Dickens, however, was kind enough to make them ridiculous.
His first three books, collectively known as “The Barrytown Trilogy,” are portraits of a working-class family on the outskirts of Dublin. The first two books, “The Commitments” and “The Snapper,” are virtually all dialogue. The filth and depravity that flows from his characters’ mouths is both shocking and hilarious. Fun to read, they are people the reader would not want to meet in real life.
Doyle’s trilogy focuses on interactions and conversation. His best book, “Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha,” shifts that focus onto the main character.
Paddy Clarke is a restless 10-year-old. He and his mates like to make trouble, destroy things and misbehave in class. His little brother, Sinbad, absorbs beatings, and his parents hate each other yet can’t divorce.
As drama plays out in the background, Paddy and his mates infuse the book with childish glee:
“Ladies can’t fart.”
“They can so.”
“No, they can’t; prove it.”
“My granny always farts,” said Ian McEvoy.
“Old ones can; not young ones.”
“Margaret’s old,” said Liam.
“Beans beans good for the heart! The more you eat the more you fart!”
“Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha” won Doyle the Booker Prize in 1993. The Booker Prize is the highest British award for literature. It is given yearly to an author from Britain, Ireland, Pakistan or South Africa. It comes with prestige and about $75,000 in cash.
Doyle’s most recent book was published three years ago. “A Star Called Henry” is the most miserable book ever written in the English language. Henry Smart is a one-legged bouncer at a brothel who gets sucked up into the war for independence in 1916. He kills British policemen by clubbing them with his wooden leg.
Henry’s Dublin is a vast rubbish heap, inhabited by rag-pickers who cavort in their own filth. They utter such gems as:
“Remember now, love,” said old Missis Doody from the back parlour, “Give the baby half a bottle of stout every night and that’ll kill the maggots.”
The casual reader will find greater satisfaction in “Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha.” Roddy Doyle’s finest, it is an entertaining novel about a child’s self-discovery.
Copyright Daily Nebraskan Online