4.23.2011

what i'm reading: the dead republic

Expect a lot of "what i'm reading" posts this spring and summer, because I am planning on doing a lot of reading! The thing I dislike most about being in grad school is not having time and energy to read what I want, only being able to read for school. Yet something good must be happening, because two books in my immediate future were inspired by my library and information classes.

Most of my top to-read list is non-fiction, but I began with fiction: The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle, the third book in The Last Roundup trilogy, after A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing. With each book, the trilogy has gotten better: more meaningful, more layered, and even more enjoyable. With The Dead Republic, Doyle surpasses anything he has written before.

I don't say that lightly. I'm a huge Roddy Doyle fan. I discovered him with 1993's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, went back and read the Barrytown Trilogy - The Snapper, The Van and, of course, The Commitments - and continued with The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and later, Paula Spencer.

The Last Roundup trilogy is a departure for Doyle. It's technically historical fiction, but with several unusual twists. More than history, they're about how history is written, how myth is created, and where identity comes from - the struggle for self-definition that conflicts with the need for shared cultural identity. It's about Irish liberation, and the dream of Ireland kept alive by the Irish diaspora, and how myth surpasses and finally becomes reality.

Each book is funny, sometimes a little crazy, like a tall tale, but the hero, Henry Smart, grows and deepens and becomes more real than myth. In The Dead Republic, all the themes come crashing together in a wild crescendo which is both implausible myth and all too poignantly human. Both at the same time.

I won't reveal any plot. The way Doyle unfolds the stories is so delicious and should be experienced as he intended. After A Star Called Henry, I did wonder if a reader unfamiliar with Irish history would get enough out of it, but many people have told me that they learned what they needed from the novel and didn't feel lost. These are three terrific books, and the final instalment is a masterpiece.

My "what i'm reading" about Oh, Play That Thing! is here; a brief excerpt is here. This review in The Guardian puts the books in context, but plot spoilers abound. This reviewer for the New York Times agrees that TDR is the best of the trilogy.

2 comments:

johngoldfine said...

http://www.amazon.com/Bloodlands-Europe-Between-Hitler-Stalin/dp/0465002390

I'm reading 'Bloodlands'--not a laugh, not even a smile, from cover to cover.

I'll have to put Roddy Doyle on my ought-to-read list; the closest I've ever come is seeing 'The Commitments.'

laura k said...

Roddy Doyle did write the screenplay for The Commitments, also for the lesser-known movies made from the other two books in that trilogy. So you were hearing his voice, anyway.

I love his writing. The Barrytown Trilogy are all easy reads, dialogue-driven, family stories with a great insight into human desires and motivations. Beautifully done, but the work of a less mature writer.

With Paddy Clarke he came into his own (Booker Prize), and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a triumph. The main character, first person narrator, is an abused woman.

This trilogy is a real departure.

I read a good review of Bloodlands. I very much want to read Tony Judt's "Postwar". It's been on our shelf for a long time, I will get to it eventually, although no time soon.