May 28, 2011

REVIEW: Roddy Doyle's 'Bullfighting'

"There is not a writer, currently producing work in English, who can match Doyle for the fluency with which he tacks back and forth between the hilarious and the heartbreaking. “Sad and good had become the same thing,” thinks a mourner who has attended one too many funerals in another of the stories — and in Bullfighting Doyle hits that sweetspot again and again. “He’d be Robin Williams in half an hour,” thinks an English teacher fighting off the urge to drink between classes in ‘Teaching’. “One of those Seize-the-Day classes. The way he used to be all day.” When a pupil’s inquiry jolts loose a jumble of memories — the teacher’s near misses with various women over the years, the sexual abuse he suffered as a kid and which possibly explains that life of near misses — he finds himself completely unmanned. “He wished that kid was his. It was ridiculous — the thought just rolled through him.” That “rolled” is beautifully chosen, very Doyle, with its sad echo of the gales that ripped through the Barrytown books — “They roared”, “a giggle ran through her and out.” Doyle’s high spirits have over the years proved a bone of contention with those critics who prefer their literature a little more blanched of cheer. The argument risks ingratitude, also inaccuracy — the inhabitants of Barrytown may blaze across the page, talking a blue streak, but there’s no missing the pain nipping at their heels, whether the shame of teenage pregnancy in The Snapper, or the penny-pinching humiliations of unemployment in The Van. But where Jimmy Rabbit sr remained firmly ensconced in the bosom of his family, happily shouted down by the hubbub at the breakfast table, Doyle is now roughly the same age as Jimmy and the view from over the hill is not nearly so convivial."

— from my review of Bullfighting by Roddy Doyle for The New York Times

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