Doyle, Roddy 1958-
DOYLE, Roddy 1958-
PERSONAL: Born May 8, 1958 in Dublin, Ireland; son of Rory (a printer) and Ida (a secretary; maiden name, Bolger) Doyle; married; wife's name Belinda; children: two sons. Education: Attended University College, Dublin.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Patti Kelly, Viking Books, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Playwright, screenwriter, educator, and novelist. Greendale Community School, Kilbarrack, Dublin, English and geography teacher, 1980—.
AWARDS, HONORS: The Van was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, British Book Trust, 1991; Booker Prize, 1993, for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha; W. H. Smith Children's Book of the Year Award shortlist, 2001, for The Giggler Treatment.
The Commitments, Heinemann (London, England), 1988, Random House (New York, NY), 1989.
The Snapper, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1990, Penguin (New York, NY), 1992.
The Van, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.
The Barrytown Trilogy, Secker & Warburg, (London, England), 1992.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Secker & Warburg, (London, England), 1993.
The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Viking (New York, NY) 1996.
A Star Called Henry, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) The Commitments (based on the novel by Doyle), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1991.
The Snapper (based on the novel by Doyle), Miramax Films, 1993.
The Van (based on the novel by Doyle), British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), 1996.
Famine, Crom Films, 1998.
Brownbread (play; produced in Dublin, Ireland; also see below), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1987.
War (play; produced in Dublin, Ireland; also see below), Passion Machine (Dublin, Ireland), 1989.
Brownbread and War (plays), Minerva (London, England), 1993, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Family (television script), BBC, 1994.
The Giggler Treatment (for children), drawings by Brian Ajhar, Arthur A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Rover Saves Christmas (for children), drawings by Brian Ajhar, Arthur A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Rory and Ita (memoir), 2002.
Also author of screenplay When Brendan Met Trudy, 2001. Contributor to anthologies, including My Favorite Year, Witherby (London, England), 1993; Yeats Is Dead!: A Mystery by Fifteen Irish Writers, edited by Joseph O'Connor, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Roddy Doyle's trilogy of novels about the Irish Rabbitte family, known informally as the "Barrytown trilogy," has been internationally acclaimed for wit, originality, and powerful dialogue. Each of the three books—The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van—focuses on a single character of the large Rabbitte family who live in Barrytown, Dublin. They are "a likeable, rough, sharp-witted clan," observed Lawrence Dugan in the Chicago Tribune. Typical working-class citizens, the Rabbittes are a vivacious and resilient household, lustily displaying an often ribald sense of humor. "These books are funny all the way down to their syntax," claimed Guy Mannes-Abbott in the New Statesman & Society, "enabling Doyle to sustain my laughter over two or three pages."
The Commitments is, perhaps, Doyle's most well-recognized work. The successful novel was adapted in 1991 into a very popular screenplay by Doyle, Dick Clement, and Ian La Frenais, and directed by award-winning filmmaker Alan Parker. In both the novel and the film, Doyle's wit and originality are evident. The main character, Jimmy Rabbitte, inspired by the rhythm and blues music of James Brown, B. B. King, and Marvin Gaye, resolves to form an Irish soul band in Dublin. He places a musicians-wanted ad in the paper: "Have you got Soul? If yes, . . . contact J. Rabbitte." And so is born the "Commitments," with Jimmy as the manager of a group which includes Imelda, a singer, and Joey "The Lips" Fagan, a musician who claims to have "jammed with the man" James Brown. "The rehearsals, as Mr. Doyle chronicles them," wrote Kinky Friedman in the New York Times, "are authentic, joyous, excruciating and funny as hell." Dugan, in the Chicago Tribune, described The Commitments as "a beautifully told story about the culture that absorbed the Vikings, Normans, Scots, and British now trying its luck with black America." The film version stars an all-Irish cast, including Robert Arkins, Andrew Strong, and singer Maria Doyle performing such 1960s hits as "Mustang Sally" and "In the Midnight Hour." A People critic reviewed the film and concluded, "The cathartic power of music has never been more graphically demonstrated."
Doyle's second novel, The Snapper, focuses on Sharon Rabbitte, Jimmy's older sister, who is young, unmarried, and pregnant. As Sharon refuses to reveal the identity of the father of her "snapper," her predicament has the Rabbitte household in a tizzy, and she becomes the target of humorous speculations by the Barrytown citizens. As a result of Sharon's pregnancy, relationships within the family undergo various transformations ranging from the compassionate (dad Jimmy, Sr.) to the murderous (mom Veronica), while Sharon herself tries to understand the changes within her own body. A Los Angeles Times Book Review critic noted that "few novels depict parent-child relationships—healthy relationships, no less—better than this one, and few men could write more sensitively about pregnancy."
Like The Commitments, The Snapper is written in the Irish vernacular, with little descriptive intrusion, and with an enormous sense of humor. John Nicholson in the London Times pointed out Doyle's "astonishing talent for turning the humdrum into high comedy" in the novel. He also singled out the characters' vernacular banter for critical praise—"the dialogue of The Snapper crackles with wit and authenticity." This is a "very funny" novel, admitted Tania Glyde in the London Times, yet she further pointed out that "it is also sad . . . Sharon's life . . . would be tragic without the support of her large and singular family." Times Literary Supplement critic Stephen Leslie asserted, "The Snapper is a worthy successor to The Commitments."
Shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, Roddy Doyle's third Rabbitte novel, The Van, changes the focus to Jimmy, Sr., the Rabbitte family's ribald, fun-loving father, who has been recently laid off work. Jimmy and his best friend, Bimbo, open a portable fast-food restaurant—Bimbo's Burgers—housed in a greasy van that is a health inspector's nightmare. The antics of the two friends running the business provide much of the hilarity of the book; for example, they mistakenly deep-fry a diaper, serve it up to a customer like cod, and then flee—restaurant and all—from his wrath, hurling frozen fish at their victim from the back of the van. Jimmy and his friends are Irish laborers "whose idea of wit and repartee is putting on fake Mexican accents and 'burstin' their shite' at jokes about farting," wrote Anne-Marie Conway in the Times Literary Supplement. "The Van is not just a very funny book," insisted Mannes-Abbott, "it is also faultless comic writing."
Critical response toward The Van was enthusiastic, with many reviewers finding a special appeal in what a Publishers Weekly commentator called Doyle's "brash originality and humor that are both uniquely Irish and shrewdly universal." Reviewer Tim Appelo in the Los Angeles Times Book Review maintained that "Doyle has perfect pitch from the get-go. He can write pages of lifelike, impeccably profane dialogue without a false note or a dull fill, economically evoking every lark and emotional plunge in the life of an entire Irish family."
Doyle's next book, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize in 1993. The novel is written from the point of view of Paddy Clarke, a ten-year-old Irish boy, whose often humorous escapades become gradually more violent and disturbing as the story progresses. John Gallagher in the Detroit News and Free Press commented on Doyle's effective use of a stream-of-consciousness narrative, and noted a "theme of undeserved suffering. . . . Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha matures into an unforgettable portrait of troubled youth."
In the New York Times, Mary Gordon established her admiration for Doyle by stating that "perhaps no one has done so much to create a new set of images for the Ireland of the late twentieth century as Roddy Doyle." Doyle's book The Woman Who Walked into Doors is about an abused, beaten wife who continually goes to the hospital emergency room and is never questioned by the staff, who merely "chalk [her repeat visits] up to her drinking or clumsiness or bad luck." Paula came from a family with loving, affectionate parents and three sisters, and her marriage started out with a "blissful honeymoon at the seaside." Gordon ruminates about Doyle's description of "what it's like to be beaten by your lover, the father of your children," and feels that it "is a masterpiece of virtuoso moves. Nothing is blinked; nothing is simplified." Paula finally comes to her senses when she sees her husband "looking at their daughter, not with desire . . . but with hate and a wish to annihilate. She stops being a battered wife when she becomes a protective mother."
In A Star Called Henry, Doyle delves into Irish history and nationalism as experienced by the book's title character, Henry Smart. "Henry is the dark horse of Irish history, Forrest Gump with a brain, and an attitude—the man cropped out of the official photographs, the boy soldier not credited for even his dirtiest work," wrote Robert Cremins in the Houston Chronicle. Born into poverty in the early 1900s, Henry is streetwise by the age of three, wandering the lanes and alleys with his year-old brother Victor, stealing what the pair needs to survive. His mother is weary with a bleak outlook, and his father is a one-legged bouncer at a brothel, a sometime murderer, and drop-of-the-hat brawler. Henry's single day of formal education ends with him being ousted by the head nun, but he cements a relationship with his teacher, Miss O'Shea, that will be taken up again in earnest later in life. Victor dies, his father abandons them, and he loses contact with his mother. Despite his disadvantages, Henry is clever and cunning, strikingly handsome, and able to use the brains that nature gave him. He inherits his father's wooden leg, and uses it both as a weapon and as a talisman to remind him where he came from and where he wants to go.
While still a teen, Henry joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), doing so "because of his resentment of the squalor he grew up in, rather than any passion for nationhood," wrote Anthony Wilson-Smith in Maclean's. In his first combat against the British, Henry is more interested in shooting out store windows—symbols of the wealth and life he never had—than at British soldiers.
At age fourteen, Henry finds himself fighting along legendary Irish revolutionaries Michael Collins, James Connolly, and Padraig Pearce in the Easter Uprising of 1916 and the occupation of the General Post Office. "The account of the 1916 Easter Uprising, the occupation of the GPO, and the bloodshed that follows must be one of the boldest and vivid descriptions of civil strife in a familiar city ever penned," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Henry meets up again with Miss O'Shea, and the two consummate their relationship on stacks of unused stamps in the basement of the post office. They are separated after the fierce battle of Easter, 1916—Henry barely escapes with his life, and continues to rise in the ranks of the IRA. Henry and Miss O'Shea meet again—and marry—three years later, with Henry deliberately avoiding knowledge of her given name ("We became man and wife without me hearing her first name," Henry says. "She was and stayed my Miss O'Shea. I never knew her name.").
Henry emerges from the story as larger-than-life, a prodigy and a kind of home-grown superhero of the stature of Finn McCool. "Fact and fiction aside, historians and non-historians alike will find little not to like about Henry Smart—his confidence, his humor, his pride," wrote Clare Bose in Europe. "He is a myth and not a legend, more Butch and Sundance than Bonnie and Clyde, but a very well-created myth at that." David Kirby, writing in Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also found Henry to be an engaging character, writing, "He's an impetuous, lucky fellow who always manages to find a way out of the fire and back into the frying pan, saved again and again either by some gooey-eyed damsel or his pop's prosthesis, surely the oddest good luck charm in all literature."
James Hopkin, writing in the New Statesman, observed, "There are enough fine moments in A Star Called Henry to remind us that Doyle is an accomplished writer; his dialogue is earthy and effective, he can render a scene as well as anyone, and a simple poetry plays around the edges of his prose." Still, for Hopkin, "stylistic flaws and heavy doses of sentiment" mar the story. Other critics, including Grace Fill in Booklist, remarked that "Doyle expertly weaves his well-known wit into even the most violent and most tender passages of the tale." Colleen Kelly-Warren, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, commented that "Doyle's writing combines rhythmic, cadenced prose, rich description, and dialogue that's real enough to feel overheard." Critic William Hutchings, in a World Literature Today review, remarked that the novel's "psychological insights into an adolescent gunman are remarkable, and its portrait of childhood homelessness in the streets and slums of turn-of-the-century Dublin, where rat-catching for profit provides a means of subsistence, is unforgettable, heartrending, and harrowingly real."
Doyle has also turned his keen observations and wit to good use in a pair of children's books. In The Giggler Treatment, adults who are mean to children are given the signature treatment of the Gigglers: a smear of dog excrement on their shoes. The furry little Gigglers have placed their smelly payload directly in the path of Mister Mack, a cookie taster who is thought to have transgressed against his children. The action and suspense of the book—whether Mister Mack will step in the dog poo or not—takes less than a minute, but throughout Doyle digresses and diverges into such material as a history of gigglers, secrets about dogs, and a dictionary of Irish terms. However, it emerges that Mister Mack is innocent of any wrongdoing, and his entire family, including a Giggler and dog Rover, rush to ensure his shoes remain clean. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book a "bracingly rude dose of fun," while Steven Engelfried, writing in School Library Journal, observed that "the imaginative narrative and clever plotting make this more than just another silly read."
Rover Saves Christmas finds the usually steadfast and resolute Rudolph suffering from a cold and a possible mid-life crisis. Santa asks talking-dog Rover to take over for the incapacitated reindeer. The Mack children (from The Giggler Treatment), their friend Victoria, and lizards Hans and Heidi join Santa and Rover on the worldwide journey on Christmas Eve. The non-linear text constantly veers from the main story to other features, including glossaries of Irish words, warnings to children, funny commercials, descriptions, and even the rebellion of the surly Chapter Six. "Such digressions have a joyous, vigorous lunacy, absolutely in tune with a child's way of thinking," commented Sarah Crompton in the Daily Telegraph. A Publishers Weekly critic called the book "enormously entertaining," and Regan McMahon, writing in San FranciscoChronicle, remarked that Rover Saves Christmas "may not be the first story of how Christmas gets saved just in the nick of time, but it may be the funniest."
Doyle's Rory & Ita, is the nonfiction biography of his parents. "It's Roddy's job to take his parents' oral history of their times and relationship and transform it into something interesting," wrote Steven E. Alford in the Houston Chronicle. "And in Rory & Ita, his first nonfiction work, he largely succeeds." Ita was born in 1925, and "so surrounded was she by poverty that she didn't recognize deprivation and hardship for what it was," Alford wrote. After a dubious first meeting at a local dance—Rory was inebriated and unappealing—their courtship thrived, and they were married in 1951. "Doyle's art consists in taking these disjointed memories and, through discreet stitching, turning them into a smooth narrative fabric," Alford observed.
"This is a charming story of two ordinary people whose lives were beset by routine struggles, most of them occasioned by the lack of money," Alford remarked. "Now and then, the account offers insight into the lifestyle changes over a single generation," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Some poignant moments, such as the death of the Doyles' third baby, are recounted. Rory's past as a member of the IRA is hinted at. But mostly, the book emerges as "a study in ordinariness," wrote Charlotte Moore in the Spectator. "Either you like this kind of thing or you don't," Moore observed. "I love it. I relished every word of Rory & Ita." Some critics remarked that because of their ordinary lives, the Doyles may not merit a full-blown biography. However, "all personal testimony is of historical interest," Moore declared. "This book is Doyle's very personal endeavor at capturing his family's history, and his parents come across as lovely, genuine people," wrote Elsa Gaztambide in Booklist. "It's a pity we can't all have our memories handled with such dignity and care," Moore concluded.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 81, Gale (Detroit), 1994.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 194: BritishNovelists since 1960, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Drabble, Margaret, editor, Oxford Companion toEnglish Literature, 6th edition, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Modern British Literature, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Stade, George, and Sarah Hanna Goldstein, editors, British Writers, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
America, February 19, 2000, James Martin, James S. Torrens, and John Breslin, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 25.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 10, 1999, David Kirby, "Doyle's Star Casts a Pall of Darkness on Irish Life," review of A Star Called Henry, p. L10.
Book, September, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 69.
Booklist, June 1, 1999, Grace Fill, review of A StarCalled Henry, p. 1741; June 1, 1999, review of The Woman Who Walked into Doors, p. 1797; March 15, 2000, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 1337; February 1, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 925; November 15, 2002, Elsa Gaztambide, review of Rory & Ita, p. 562.
Book World, September 5, 1999, review of A StarCalled Henry, p. 3; October 31, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 4.
Boston Globe, December 19, 1993.
Chicago Tribune, August 9, 1992, p. 5.
Christian Science Monitor, September 16, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 16; November 18, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 12.
Commonweal, November 19, 1999, review of A StarCalled Henry, p. 56.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), December 1, 2002, Sarah Crompton, review of Rover Saves Christmas.
Detroit News and Free Press, December 12, 1993,
Entertainment Weekly, September 17, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 74; December 24, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 144.
Europe, March, 2000, Claire Bose, review of A StarCalled Henry, p. 34.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), September 11, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. D18; November 27, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. D50; December 1, 2001, review of Rover Saves Christmas, p. D16.
Guardian (London, England), September 2, 2000, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 11.
Horn Book Guide, spring, 2001, review of The Giggler Treatment, p. 60.
Houston Chronicle, October 10, 1999, Robert Cremins, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 15; December 15, 2002, Steven E. Alford, review of Rory & Ita, p. 23.
Independent (London, England), April 14, 1996, p. 32.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1999, review of A StarCalled Henry, p. 901; November 1, 2001, review of Rover Saves Christmas, p. 1548; September 15, 2002, review of Rory & Ita, p. 1363.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, Dave Ferman, review of Rita and Ita, p. K6369.
Library Journal, August, 1999, Heather McCormack, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 137.
Literary Review, summer, 1999, Karen Sbrockey, "Something of a Hero: An Interview with Roddy Doyle," p. 537.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 19, 1992, p. 6; September 20, 1992, p. 3; October 3, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 2.
Maclean's August 30, 1993, p. 50; October 25, 1999, Anthony Wilson-Smith, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 93.
Nation, April 16, 2001, Tim Appelo, review of WhenBrendan Met Trudy, p. 35.
New Republic, September 16, 1991, p. 30.
New Statesman, September 6, 1999, James Hopkin, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 54.
New Statesman & Society, August 23, 1991, pp. 35-36; June 18, 1993, p. 39.
New Straits Times, August 7, 1996.
Newsweek, December 27, 1993, p. 48.
Newsweek International, September 20, 1999, Carla Power, "The Myths of Rebellion: A New Novel Takes on Freedom Fighters," review of A Star Called Henry, p.35.
New Yorker, January 24, 1994, p. 91; February 5, 1996, p. 56; October 4, 1999, Daphne Merkin, review of A Star Called Henry, pp. 110-117.
New York Review of Books, February 3, 1994, p. 3.
New York Times, July 23, 1989, p. 11; December 13, 1993, p. B2; May 16, 1997, p. B12; September 10, 1999, Richard Bernstein and Eric Asimov, review of A Star Called Henry, p. B42; September 10, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. E44.
New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1992, p. 15; October 8, 1993; January 2, 1994, pp. 1, 21; April 28, 1996, p. 7; May 2, 1999, Katharine Weber, "Finbar's Hotel," p. 19; September 12, 1999, Richard Eder, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 7; December 5, 1999, p. 6; December 5, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 106; September 17, 2000, "So Watch Your Step," p. 33; December 16, 2001, review of Rover Saves Christmas, p. 20.
Observer (London, England), October 31, 1993, p. 18; August 29, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 11; September 12, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 7; October 28, 2001, review of Rover Saves Christmas, p. 16.
People, August 26, 1991, pp. 13-14.
Philadelphia Inquirer, January 20, 1994, pp. E1, E7.
Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1992, p. 36; March 25, 1996, pp. 55-56; July 12, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 70; October 4, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 36; November 1, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 45; July 24, 2000, review of The Giggler Treatment, p. 94; September 24, 2001, review of Rover Saves Christmas, p. 54; September 24, 2001, review of The Giggler Treatment, p. 95; September 23, 2002, review of Rory & Ita, p. 59.
Reading Teacher, May, 2001, review of The GigglerTreatment, p. 827.
Rolling Stone, September 21, 1989, p. 27.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1999, Colleen Kelly Warren, "Doyle's Exuberant, Bleak Story Introduces Henry Smart, an IRA Assassin Born to the Job," review of A Star Called Henry, p. F10.
San Francisco Chronicle, October 2, 1999, Sam Whiting, "A Star Called Roddy Doyle: Irish Novelist's Latest Best-seller Delves into History, Both Personal and National," profile of Roddy Doyle, p. B1; December 16, 2001, Regan McMahon, review of Rover Saves Christmas, p. 4.
School Library Journal, November, 2000, Steven Engelfried, review of The Giggler Treatment, p. 119; October, 2001, review of Rover Saves Christmas, p. 64.
Sewanee Review, fall, 1999, Floyd Skloot, review of AStar Called Henry, p. C3.
Spectator, September 4, 1999, Kevin Myers, review of A Star Called Henry, pp. 32-33; November 30, 2002, Charlotte Moore, "In Their Own Words," review of Rory & Ita, p. 54.
Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX), February 5, 2003, Dave Ferman, review of Rory & Ita.
Time, December 6, 1993, p. 82; September 6, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 76; October 4, 1999, Walter Kirn, "The Best of the Boyos: Roddy Doyle Vividly Portrays the Wild Passions of an Irish Everyman in A Star Called Henry," p. 102.
Times (London, England), August 16, 1990; October 5, 1991, p. 51.
Times Educational Supplement, July 2, 1993, p. 18.
Times Literary Supplement, December 21-27, 1990, p. 1381; August 16, 1991, p. 22; June 11, 1993, p. 21; November 5, 1993, p. 14; September 3, 1999, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 8.
Wall Street Journal, September 10, 1999, Allen Barra, review of A Star Called Henry, p. W7; March 9, 2001, Joe Morgenstern, review of When Brendan Met Trudy, p. W4.
Washington Post, February 4, 1995.
Washington Post Book World, August 10, 1992, p. B2.
World of Hibernia, winter, 1999, John Boland, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 155.
World Literature Today, summer, 2000, William Hutchings, review of A Star Called Henry, p. 594.
Guardian Online,http://guardian.co.uk/ (January 14, 2003), "Roddy Doyle."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 28, 1999), Charles Taylor, interview with Doyle.*