Smile by Roddy Doyle

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by Edith Cody-Rice 

Roddy Doyle’s 11th novel Smile is a departure from his previous humour laden novels. With a sharp wit and piercing insight, Roddy Doyle has explored  childhood memories middle-aged regrets and pub conversations in his novels. His Paddye Clarke Ha Ha Ha, winner of the Booker prize in 1993 relates impish memories, but  gradually brings forth the realization of a failing marriage. And his language is quintessentially Irish. You can hear the pub conversations and interior conversations of the protagonist even as you are reading the words.

In this novel, the protagonist, Victor Forde, has moved into his old childhood Dublin neighbourhood after his marriage and career have disintegrated. He is a minor celebrity, having been a music journalist and frequent radio guest and having been married to a celebrity chef Rachel. Now he looks for companionship in a local pub and finds it among a group of men his age who did not go off and become stars. That makes him happy, but a thorn in his side is Fitzpatrick, the first man to approach him in the pub and who claims to be an old classmate in the Christian Brothers’ school they both attended. There is quite a bit of tension between these two and Fitzpatrick, a rather burly and crude fellow, is not welcomed into the magic circle of men. But even at that, Victor begins to like Fitzpatrick.

The novel is an exploration of a failed novelist who always wanted to and claimed to be writing a book, of his failing marriage, but particularly of childhood memories. As becomes evident, memory can be quite tricky: this is a major theme of Doyle’s. The book is written with the ear in mind and with a grasp of the subtlety of human emotions which may veer from day to day.

The ending is a total surprise and both profound and scary. This is a brave novel and a pleasure to read for the language, the wit, the insights and the story itself.