In Conversation with Roddy Doyle and Emma Donoghue
On Thursday, October 18th at 7:30 p.m., Toronto’s International Festival of Authors will host a talk with celebrated Irish authors, Roddy Doyle and Emma Donoghue, in conjunction with Ireland Park Foundation. For more information, please click here.
In anticipation of this exciting event, long-standing Toronto Bloomsday organizer, Mary Durkan, gives her thoughts below on why Roddy Doyle is one of Ireland’s most celebrated authors.
WHO’S YER MAN?
In 1990s, the Dublin-born writer Roddy Doyle burst on to the Irish and international scene with his Barrytown trilogy of novels: The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van – the literary equivalent of the Riverdance sensation. In both cases, a traditional Irish form was infused with American cultural influences from dance, music, television and movies. While retaining their distinctive Irish centre, radical new forms were created that were passionate, even sexy.
In the trilogy, Dublin’s working class, usually overlooked by writers, is centre stage. Doyle’s people are O’Casey’s people. Interestingly, when the inner-city tenements that housed Fluther and his neighbours were demolished, the inhabitants, true blood Dubliners, were relocated in Corporation estates on the north side of Dublin, the Barrytown of the novels.
The hapless Rabbitt family of the trilogy is hilarious as they struggle with the absurdities of the commonplace – the fights, the joys, the unemployment, pregnancies, the crumpled dreams. But there’s a warmth, even a tenderness, in their resilience and determination. In the face of many crises, the family pulls together. Us against them.
Like O’Casey, Roddy Doyle is a comic genius with an astonishing ear for dialogue. People reveal themselves in what they say. Descriptions are unnecessary. We’re immediately plunged into the intimate rough and tumble of their lives as in the memorable opening line of The Snapper – “You’re what?” Doyle is more Beckett than Joyce.
His characters, wielding language at times like a cudgel, a rapier or even lightly as a feather, know the power of language in an otherwise powerless world. Their black caustic humour, usually laced with hysterically funny obscenities, undercuts sentimentality while cutting people and events down to size.
Nicknames, an honoured Dublin tradition, abound. They can be cruel, funny or skewering. The Rabbitt family dog is named Larrygogan after an Irish TV ‘personality’. Merciless.
It’s no surprise, given the filmic nature of the writing, that all three of the Barrytown novels became hugely successful films.
Doyle won the 1993 Booker Prize for his novel, PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA!, in which 10-year-old Paddy tries to make sense of the world he encounters at home, on the street and in school. We know his inner thoughts, feelings, triumphs and confusions, and we feel his bewilderment as he poignantly wonders: “Why didn’t Da like Ma? She liked him; it was him didn’t like her. What was wrong with her?”
Having successfully captured the inner world of a ten-year-old boy, Doyle, in THE WOMAN WHO WALKED INTO DOORS, plunged into the interior life of Paula Spencer, a 39year old woman who’s trying to rebuild herself and her life that have been shattered by alcoholism and 17 years of violent abuse at the hands of Charlo, her husband and love of her life.
The style is elliptical, swinging between past and present. Fragmented memories arise, some triggered by music and song, the soundtrack of her life. But Paula questions memory. Is it reliable? How come people, like her sisters, remember common experiences differently? Yet she needs to remember to make sense of why she’s ended up as she has.
Doyle’s achievement is remarkable. In Paula, he’s created a completely believable flawed woman we come to understand and even love. Because of her searing honesty about herself, we forgive her. There’s humour in her honesty. The truth is funny.
In a brief exchange between Paula and Charlo, we witness a writer at the height of his power:
-Where did you get that?
It was a test… There was only one right answer.
-I walked into the door.
-Is that right?
-It’s not too bad.
In a recently re-broadcast of Eleanor Wachtel’s interview on Writers & Company (CBC Radio), Doyle reveals himself as a captivating reader of his own work, even at times cracking himself up when he comes across a particularly funny line he’d forgotten he’d written.
When you’re next in Dublin, check out the plaque outside the Rotunda Maternity Hospital, beside the Gate Theatre, that reads “Birthplace of The Snapper”. How apt!
For tickets to Toronto International Festival of Authors event, “In Conversation with Roddy Doyle and Emma Donoghue,” please click here.