Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle

We fended and coped, we survived and grew, side by side or with Victor on my shoulders. We survived but never prospered. We were never going to prosper. We were allowed the freedom of the streets - no one gave a fuck - but we'd never, ever be allowed up the bright steps and into the comfort and warmth behind the doors and windows. I knew that. I knew it every time I jumped out of the way of a passing coach or car, every time I filled my weeping mouth with rotting food, every time I saw shoes on a child my age. I knew it every time a strange man would offer us money or food to come with him. I knew it, and the knowledge fed my brain. I was the brightest spark in a city full of bright and desperate sparks.
Took me a while to write it up, but, ladies (really just Meagan, right?) and gentlemen, I present to you a really, really good book.

When I first started reading A Star Called Henry, I told Chris it was like a grittier version of Dubliners, which, looking back, is like saying that cocaine is grittier than aspirin. Not to disrespect Joyce, but he was writing in a different era. Joyce was writing about the events leading up to the Irish Revolution, but he was writing in 1910, before the revolution. Considering the moral atmosphere of the time, and the restrictions of English rule, it's not surprising that Joyce's Dublin underbelly was considerably softer than Doyle's. Doyle published A Star Called Henry in 1999, and so was a bit more free with his expletives and references to guts and doin' it and stuff.

Henry Smart (great name) is one of my new favorite characters, at least in the top three. He's the son of a one-legged whorehouse bouncer, forced onto the streets at age five, and learns to fare for himself. At fourteen he joins up with Eamon de Valera and the Irish Republican Army, more for the sake of fighting than for the Republic, gets thrown into prison, escapes, becomes a dock worker, reunites with the IRA, escapes jail again, and is just an all around badass. He has a supernatural connection to the rivers of Dublin, and carries around his father's wooden leg (for bashing heads). His story is so huge that it's hard to believe that the book ends when he's twenty. And yet it's not hard to imagine that there were hundreds of young Henry Smarts fighting for their culture and their home in the early 20th century.

Henry Smart is like a superhero, or Irish hercules. He's invincible, his personal story is borderline mythology. I have a man-crush on this character, and a book-crush on this book. Then I found out it has a sequel (dun dun DUN).

Jim, I'm Afri-mailing this to you soon.


Jim said...

Afri-mail is one of my favorite Afri-things, behind only Afri-beer and Afri-pizza.

All of those things are much better than Afri-robbery and Afri-canized honey bees.

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