Akron Irish: Roddy Doyle

January, blah, the doldrums, the non-holiday month of dark days, snow, slush and yuk. This dark time of year makes for a month that really seems much longer than February, which at least has the good luck to be broken up by Valentine’s Day. It is a month that tests character and forces a person to make their own fun.

While this constitutes complaining, I also like to remind people that nothing gets invented in Hawaii. These dark days give us time to read, reflect, tinker, or whatever else it is we do to escape them. Every season has its pleasures, and we can enjoy this time of year for its sense of balance and restoration after the rigors of the holidays. It gives me the ability to refuse society and stay home by the fire reading with the cats- my own hygge!

It is in that spirit that I am going to recommend an author for your reading or even viewing pleasure, since several of the books became quality films. The author of these quality works is none other than Roddy Doyle.

The Commitments
If you are and wondering who that is, I bet that you are already familiar with at least one of his books turned film, “The Commitments.” It is his seminal, Dublin-yet-universal, story of a group of working-class kids looking to escape their boundaries and make music that has as much soul as they do.

An argument could be made that this book and ensuing film were a zeitgeist in the current soul music revival. The novel was part of the Barrytown Trilogy, which includes The Snapper and The Van, all of which made it to the silver screen.Those novels center around different members of the Rabbitte family, who were living in the late 80s early 9’s, in a pre-Celtic Tiger Dublin housing estate.

Ireland was on the cusp of change. As in any good series, it is not so much what happens as how. The Rabbittes are funny, good natured, rough-around-the-edges n’er do wells, in other words, great characters.

Roddy Doyle was made in Dublin, born and raised. He is not quite as working-class as his literary work suggests. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and then Trinity College. He knew a bit of the literary life through the career of a second cousin, Maeve Brennan, a Dublin girl made-good, working and publishing in 1940s New York.

After a stint of school teaching, Doyle decided to try his hand at writing. It has worked out pretty well for him. As an author, he is much more Twain than Joyce. He has an ear for the Irish street vernacular and dialogue, including the flair for swearing. |

Yet, I think that he is the author who best captured Ireland in transition. Being born in 1958, he is at the tail end of the Boomers. Pop culture references are woven into the fabric of his writing. He witnessed and recorded the societal changes that his country went through; the diminished role of the Catholic Church in family life and society along with the changing roles of men and women.

When an unmarried Rabbitte daughter is pregnant, she is not sent to the “Laundries,” she is supported by her family. Men in Doyle’s Ireland are partners: they do laundry, cook and take care of children, and they like it, especially the children part.

 In addition to the Rabbitte books, he has written so much more, sixteen books to be exact, and countless short stories that have been published in The New Yorker, among others. Doyle is the quintessential Irish writer of the last thirty years.

He is not the pained dark moody Irish type. He is the great guy that you feel lucky to have met in the pub. He is above all things, down to earth and funny. What he lacks in sophistication, he makes up for in heart. That is the quality that oozes out of his characters.

Man Booker Prize
Every single book has heart which serves to both inspire and give a good kick in the arse as a way to remind a person what is important. He won the prestigious UK Man Booker prize for Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha.

Paddy is a coming of age story set in late 60s Ireland in which young Paddy begins to understand both his parents’ failing relationship and his father’s alcoholism. He wrote another trilogy about Irish Independence, starting with the book, A Star Called Henry.

There is not much of a topic of interest in modern Ireland that Roddy Doyle’s pen hasn’t touched. The portraits of men are especially good. He writes with an understanding and gentleness that is just plain moving.

Many Irish writers focus on the country people and their way of life. Roddy Doyle’s books are always in Dublin. The Dubs are the Irish version of New Yorkers, often portrayed as a bit mercenary and wise cracking.

Fair enough assessment at times, but a little short-sighted. They are the city cousins, but they are still Irish. As much as the lush green scenery of Ireland draws tourists, it is the people that keep them coming back.

Roddy Doyle’s characters really embody the people. They care for each other without the embarrassment of sentimentality, and they use humor to drive that out. They are the world’s optimists.

Roddy Doyle’s writing embraces the idea that people are fundamentally good. They may be tempted or turned, but the goodness shines through some where.

Picking up this month’s New Yorker, I found a new story by Roddy Doyle which reminded me again how much I love his writing. Those stories don’t feel so much new to me as they do an invitation to visit a place that I like to go.

It is a place where bad news is wrapped in a joke or a story. Where people have character and support each other. Where love of family and those close to you is all and you do what you have to do to keep that going. It is a great place to visit.

Here is a link to his latest New Yorker story: Enjoy!

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