Roddy Doyle understands Dubliners, and paints very affectionate if 'warts and all' pictures of the city and its people. It's obvious that he loves the place. This particular book is about a character from the Dublin slums, his background and his involvement in the Easter Rising in 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence. A fascinating picture of these decisive events in the evolution of modern Ireland is painted, but it's not a dry old history book, full of opinion, 'armchair' patriotism or pompous waffling - anything but. I loved it, I laughed out loud in some places (if you're familiar with Dubliners you'll recognise some of the 'characters' and the 'goings on' of them) and I was very moved (the grinding poverty, the unrewarded heroism and terrible unfairness) in others. It's simply a wonderful book.
This book is very different from the others, and absolutely brilliant. Doyle abandoned an excellent established, very successful, style and format to create a work that stands as a pinnacle of international literary achievement. Read "The Van" or "The Commitments" and you are in a world of poingant everyday comedy. Read "A Star Called Henry" and you so slip so deep into history that it comes as a shock to put the book down and return to the 21st century. What passion! What pathos! Don't miss this one. Read it.
With what is certainly the last great Irish novel of the 20th century Roddy Doyle has written a startling novel of murder,love and revolution set against the backdrop of the formation and birth of the Irish Republic. The book is a somewhat revisionist view of the Easter Rising and War of Independance but there is little of the stark sarcasm found in Joesph O'Connor's The Salesman when his central character relects on the nationalism of 60s Ireland. Henry Smart is a slum child who grows to fight with the Citizens Army for the cause of Socialism only to find that in the end his leaders, men like Collins and DeValera, has very little respect for his ideals. A ruthless soldier, he sees his Ireland shaping into a conservative, Catholic nation far removed from the concerns of those who lived in the squalor of inner city Dublin. The novel is a brilliant and intense insight into this chapter of Irish history. You come away enlightened and with a perspective that challenges the traditional schoolbook teachings and folklore which surrounds this period of Irish Republicanism.
This is a well-written novel that paints a vivid picture of late 19th/early 20th Century Dublin. Doyle clearly did his homework before writing this and various historical references within the novel show evidence of considerable research. However, these historical references have a tendency to become rather intrusive. At times I do get the impression that Doyle was more concerned with inserting historical references than with crafting an engaging story. The references to real-life figures can be confusing too.
For me, the primary drawback of this novel was its central character, Henry Smart (Jr). The first problem with the protagonist is that he is utterly charmless. At no point did I care what happened to him or those close to him and I did not feel that he had any redeeming features whatsoever. It's fine having a murderous psychopath as a central character, but there needs to be something about them that retains your interest in them (take Tony Soprano or Michael Corleone as a case in point). Henry just didn't do that for me. Not to mention the fact that the character of Henry is simply unbelievable - a barely pubescent kid in his early teens, with ladies falling at his feet at every turn, killing and maiming through sheer brute force? Come on. For a novel that is otherwise full of grit and honesty, this just isn't a credible characterisation. Considering what he achieved with "The Woman Who Walked into Doors", it surprises me to come across such transparent characters in this novel.
That being said, I like the way Doyle writes. The dialogue is authentic and engaging, and parts of the novel (especially those involving the protagonist's father) are very enjoyable. I couldn't decide whether to award this novel two stars or three, so I rounded up to three.
The book provides a vivid (and uncomfortable) description of slum life in Dublin at the turn of the century and gives a fascinating account of the Irish war for independence from the Easter Rising of 1916 to the civil war of the early 1920s. It's let down hugely by the lead character Henry who is neither credible nor likeable. When I got to the end of the book I'd no interest in finding out about his future adventures in the second book in this trilogy. It's a big weakness as he is, as the book title indicates, fundamental to the story. Henry is anything but a star.
I enjoyed this once I got over my apprehension that it would glorify murder, maiming, and the IRA. In fact if anything the opposite is true. Henry clearly fell into his way of life, controlled by the IRA, by chance, mainly oblivious to the fact he was being manipulated. It's a very well written book and extremely informative about historical events during which the British did less than shine, especially the Easter Rising in 1916. The depiction of poverty in Ireland at the time is horrific, but the tone of the book remains detached and is often extremely funny. It was obviously meticulously researched, especially the section about the dockers.
I was disappointed to leave Henry where we did, and wanted to know "the end of the story," though he had at one point hinted at his end in South America. One point, I had reservations about the bloodthirsty Miss O'Shea and I refuse to believe he married her and never knew her Christian name.