HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 January 2014
(3.5 stars) Twenty-five years ago Jimmy Rabbitte and his mates in the working class Barrytown section of Dublin, decided that the best way to change their economic situation for the better was to form a rock band. In the first novel of author Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy (1988), named The Commitments for the rock group they formed, Jimmy and his hopeful friends tried for big-time success, and in the trilogy's subsequent novels (The Snapper and The Van), they continued their earnest and energetic, though unsophisticated, plans to improve their lives. Now, after twenty-five years, four children, and a bit of success, Jimmy returns in The Guts. Like the earlier novels The Commitments and The Van, Doyle's The Guts is hilarious, filled with humor that ranges from the dark to the most boisterous and profane, but it also shows an older, more thoughtful Jimmy whose life has taken a sudden turn.
When Jimmy and his father meet at the pub after work, the reader sees a different culture from that of Jimmy and his family twenty-five years earlier. His father now texts friends about "going for a pint," and he wants to know about Facebook and websites on which older women (cougars) chase young boys. Without warning, Jimmy tells his father about his recent diagnosis of cancer, a shock which his father first tries to pass off, and then tries unsuccessfully to share. Though his father is not a demonstrative person, Jimmy notices that he "was trying to get nearer to Jimmy without actually moving. Without making a show."
Here, as in most of his other novels, Doyle's characters are so clearly conceived that the dialogue and the subtle actions of the characters often take the place of real narrative. The language of the streets pervades the novel, just as it does the lives of the characters, and the jokes and humorous byplay that friends and family enjoy with each other keep the reader entertained at the same time that s/he is learning much about individuals and their attitudes. As the novel progresses over the next six months, Jimmy tries to reconnect with some family members who have moved on and had no contact with him or his parents for years. Typically, he also comes up with a new scheme to make money, this time from the Eucharistic Congress and the possibility that Pope Benedict will be coming to Dublin for the first time since 1932. Throughout, music forms the bridge that allows Jimmy to communicate with many people without becoming too personal.
This is the Jimmy Rabbitte that those who loved The Barrytown Trilogy, both in book form and in film and the theater, will remember and love. This Jimmy, however, is now a grownup, and, like the rest of us, he has moved beyond the immediate to think about more universal and more "gutsy" subjects than he did as a teenager and young adult. Though it is not perfect in its structure and often wanders around, the novel is funny and thoughtful and sensitive, a worthy successor to the earlier Barrytown books, despite its limitations, which feel minor compared to the book's dauntless, boisterous spirit.