The following piece is a mock book review written for my high school’s Writer’s Craft class. As ordered by Big Brother (i.e the Ministry of Education), its students need to explore different veins of writing, in order to mature into balanced and objective writers… on second thought, I will save my energy and use it while writing some rant in the near-future. Stay posted.
For the time being, let me know what you think of my book review, written in response to Roddy Doyle’s short-story collection Bullfighting (incidentally, Doyle is one of my favourite authors so expect to see more of him on this page).
Book review by Julien Denis Procuta : Bullfighting by Roddy Doyle
They say we are all Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Yet, Irish literature provides the same cultural experience – minus the cruel morning after.
The Emerald Isle has produced an astonishing amount of internationally acclaimed writers, who have forever crystallized Irish culture, values, and history. James Joyce captured the country’s heartbeat in the early 20th century with the tales of Dubliners and perhaps no other stories have so masterfully channelled this culture since.
Enter Bullfighting. Enter Roddy Doyle.
For the past quarter-century, Doyle has captured Dublinfrom every perspective: as an alcoholic mother in Paula Spencer; as a child in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, a semi-autobiographical account which merited the 1993 Booker Prize. He voiced an Irish freedom fighter in The Last Roundup trilogy, or again, a North Dublin soul group in The Commitments, which spawned a film adaptation and launched Doyle into the international limelight.
A father of two, Doyle worked as a teacher in North Dublinbefore taking up writing full-time. These experiences have allowed him to broach themes such as generational evolution and modern parenthoods.
Yet, despite his literary polyvalence, Doyle has, more often than not, voiced the qualms ofDublin’s middle-aged and middle-classed men, which from his accounts, are numerous.
His latest work, a collection of short stories entitled Bullfighting, does just that. Though the plots vary – from the absurd, such as “Blood”, where a man learns to live with an insatiable thirst for raw steak (which he dismisses as “one of those mid-life things”), to the excessively ordinary like “Recuperation”, which describes a man’s walk around the block – these tales are all anchored by the theme of the problematic lives of ordinary men.
Doyle truthfully portrays this lifestyle because he himself is such a man – the kind of man who, like Hanahoe, protagonist of “Recuperation”, sings the blues of a lifelong routine of “Mass, driving the kids to football, or dancing. The pint on Friday. The sex on Sunday. Pay on Thursday. The shop on Saturday.”
Through Bullfighting, Doyle doesn’t venture from his usual platform. In fact, more than ever, he stays within his confines. Nevertheless, his writing has evolved to fit a new Irish mindset. Having lived throughIreland’s late 20th-century economic boom, his characters now face a new, bleaker reality.
Dominated by problems like the disparate job market and a perpetual disconnection from one’s children, Doyle’s prototypical narrator now felt “empty. Finished. The stories, his memories, were wearing out and there was nothing new replacing them.”
Torn between past and present, protagonists like Donal from “Bullfighting” find themselves helpless, living vicariously through their memories and caught in a perpetual state of reflection about today’s ever-changing society. For such a man, “things had changed. It wasn’t just him. Something had happened.”
Doyle conveys these cultural qualms with the scientific precision of an anthropologist – and as any good one would, he documents his subject’s constant, if sometimes reluctant, evolution.
However, Doyle spins his stories with humanity and humility, allowing his characters to eventually find the answers to their problems – even if these answers may be ephemeral, lasting the length of a Thursday night pint of Guinness.
For such men, Doyle succeeds in making the personal universal, and the author reassures you that you are far from being alone.
Yet, one doesn’t need to be suffering the pains of midlife manhood to connect with the themes of Bullfighting. He makes his literature accessible to all, which is, in itself, the beauty of the book. It can be appreciated by readers outside of Doyle’s usual realm for the cultural lessons and experiences that constitute each of his stories – thoroughly enhanced by the author’s employment of Irish jargon, with expressions like “yis, eejit, and shite”.
Indeed, the stories manage to appeal to larger audiences because Doyle writes with passion, conviction, smarts and heart simultaneously. This personal investment clearly shines through, and although Bullfighting may be simple – overly so at times – it hits the reader on a deeper level because it is a real, tangible and credible account of life inDublin, in all its shame and glory.
Consequently, Bullfighting can be deemed a personal catharsis for Doyle – a collection written for himself above everyone else. His latest stories contain the autobiographical quality previously found in works like Paddy Clarke Ha Ha.
Comparatively, The Deportees, his first short-story collection, was written from a much more multicultural narrative perspective, and the result was rough around the edges. In Bullfighting, the author clearly finds his voice, and embraces it with confidence and elegance.
Doyle’s personal attachment is enhanced by his trademark prose and Irish humour. His style is stripped-down, punctuated by economical, yet punchy sentences. He values the weight of his words as to not toss them around and embellish his work with verbose prose.
Doyle’s gift as an author is his ability to portray all issues with a proverbial grain of salt. He broaches his themes – even serious ones like death or divorce – with humour so subtle it is apparent only after reading. It is a rare gift to balance the comedic and the sober without trying too hard. Doyle succeeds in both.
Thus, it can be said that the hero of these stories is not the everyday man, but rather Irelanditself. With Bullfighting, Roddy Doyle cements his reputation as a national treasure, one thatIreland should cherish just as much as he cherishes the country itself.
Hemingway once said that the common link between all good books is that they are truer than if they had really happened. In Bullfighting, Doyle not only stays true to himself. He stays true to Ireland. Instead of shying away from its problems, he embraces them with devotion and fortitude.
As Hemingway also said, “bullfighting is the only art in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour”. And, considering what he has done for his country, Roddy Doyle is a fighter, a brilliant one at that, and Bullfighting is proof of this brilliance.