Roddy Doyle’s latest novel is coming later this month from Viking: The Dead Republic.
Lots of reviews already.
The Dead Republic is the final volume in Roddy Doyle’s trilogy The Last Roundup: an ambitious effort to tether a century of Irish history to the life of one mercurial and long-lived narrator, Henry Smart. Having proved his mastery of a certain demotic realism with his Barrytown trilogy and the Booker-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Doyle appears in his recent novels to intend a magic-realist remapping of the stock coordinates of national myth. A Star Called Henry (1999), established Smart’s origins in dismal poverty and his Zelig-like knack for historical punctuality: fighting in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916, stalking the countryside as an IRA assassin during the War of Independence. In 2004, Oh, Play That Thing saw him exiled to New York and Chicago, jumping trains (and losing a leg) during the Depression and housebreaking with the young Louis Armstrong.
There is a difference between dialogue and voice and while Doyle is a master of the former – it was his ear for the vernacular that drove his early books to their comic heights – his attempts at an interiorised, rather than a spoken, idiom have generally been less convincing. When Smart is talking, even if it is to John Wayne or Maureen O’Hara, he sounds as if he might just have existed. But when he is “thinking”, and observing history passing, he rarely strays from simple subject-verb-object sentences; these passages have the virtue of simplicity, but they rarely suggest a palpable reality and they need to, if only to make a counterpoint with the various confected versions of his life story with which Henry Smart finds himself competing.
What we have here is something one had thought impossible: a Roddy Doyle novel that outstays its welcome. So praise be that the book ends on an unambiguous full point. Time, one humbly suggests, for Doyle to abandon history, too, and get back to what he’s good at: the humdrum hilarity of the here and now.