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Roddy Doyle–LOVE

Note: Recipient of many literary prizes, Roddy Doyle was WINNER of the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and WINNER of the Irish PEN Award for his contributions to Irish Literature in 2009.

“He looked different, I decided.  He looked bad – torn. In crisis.  He was picking at his food.  There wasn’t much left on the plate – he must have been eating.  But he looked too thin.  The skin under his neck had become loose, wattled.  I’d told him he was looking well, when we’d met an hour before, and I’d meant it.  But now I was actually looking at him.” – Davy, contemplating his long-time friend Joe.

book cover - Version 3

Friendship has always played an important role in author Roddy Doyle’s work, and this novel, his thirteenth for adults, is his most intimate in its portrayal of two long-time friends who get together to talk, every now and then, and share their lives.  Friends since childhood, Davy and Joe have moved in different directions, with Davy now living in England and coming to Ireland periodically to visit his father in Dublin, and Joe still living in Dublin, where he has worked since high school and raised a family.  As the novel opens, the two, now approaching sixty, are meeting in a Dublin pub, and a long night of conversation between them forms the structure of this novel-in-dialogue as they share memories of the past, with most of the memories coming from Joe. Of primary importance to him, is an experience that took place exactly a year ago when Joe saw, for the first time in thirty-seven years, a woman he and Davy had both been in love with when they were twenty-one.  Neither Joe nor Davy had dated her then – or even had a conversation with her – but they both were mesmerized by her beauty.  Joe goes on to explain that last year he had been at a parent-teacher night at the Dublin school his children attended, and this woman, another parent, had recognized him immediately and come over to say hello, even giving him a peck on the cheek.  Though he recognized her immediately, he could not remember her name.

Author photo by Anthony Woods.

Author photo by Anthony Woods.

Flashing back to their earlier lives, just after Davy completed his post-high-school education and Joe had been working for four years and earning his own income, Joe describes his memories at twenty-one and their sudden discovery of the perfect spot to talk, an unnamed pub at which they were treated as grownups, one with no television, no horse racing, no radio, and no music.  Here they saw a man and three women at a table, and the “most gorgeous woman in the world” was one of those women.  Thirty-seven years have passed, and as Joe returns to his tale of the recent parent-teacher conference, he tells Davy,  “It was like she’d seen me the day before.  The way she behaved, the way she spoke to me.  Like it was 1981, or whenever….Lips.  Her lips kissed me, made actual contact with my skin.  Not the air near my skin.”  What was most amazing to him was that it also “felt normal….It didn’t feel like they had to catch up, rattle off the list of kids, and he didn’t want to waste the time they had until he was called in to meet the teacher.”  They exchange phone numbers.  And he learns that her name is Jessica.

Palace Bar, Dublin, mentioned late in the novel.

Palace Bar, Dublin, which Joe and Davy visit late in the novel.

With Joe doing most of the “talking,” this novel-in-dialogue tells the story of their marriages and the role this beautiful woman played in Joe’s early dreams and now, surprisingly, in his later life.  Though Joe’s wife Trish was also at the parent-teacher night, they had separated for the conferences so that they could see more of their children’s teachers, and Trish had missed this big moment.  As Joe develops a relationship with Jessica over time and shares it with Davy in this conversation, Roddy Doyle creates such a strong and intimate mood that readers will feel as if they are present at events through the intense conversation that takes place.  Though Joe insists that his wife Trish is a “force of nature” and that he “loves the ground Trish walks on,” he also says that he feels “something important missing.  Something’s lost and you haven’t a clue what it is.”  With Jessica, “I felt like I’d come home.”  He also insists, surprisingly, that sex has nothing to do with his feelings.  Davy’s marriage to Faye, by contrast, seems tame, and the reader gets few insights into Davy’s inner life, though Faye herself has a strain of wildness that keeps Davy constantly on his toes.  She inherited a store which she sold so that they could move to England and have their baby there, and they have stayed for thirty years.  Davy’s mother died long ago, and his father, who was never close to Faye, is now ill and hospitalized.

Late in the novel Joe comments that life with Jess is like "livin' in a fairy tale," such as "Stardust."

Late in the novel Joe comments that life with Jess is like “livin’ in a fairy tale,” such as “Stardust,” but not “really.”

As the two men talk, Joe’s earnest and honest approach to his life and those he cares for cannot help but make readers empathize with him, and even Davy feels for him though he does not always believe all he says, especially when his own memories of events differ from Joe’s.  He is concerned to learn that Jessica is not happy with Joe or with life in general, and Joe does not think she has ever been truly happy.  By contrast, Trish, from whom Joe is now separated is “a force of nature….“the happiest woman in Ireland.  Happiest woman ever born.”  Joe believes that Jess is happy only with him, and that’s important to him, even though he has lost Trish and the children he loves, as a result.  Health emergencies involving both men add yet another insight into life and love.

The many shades of love and the obligations and pleasures associated with it are seen though the vibrant conversations here, but the emphasis shifts to a very special kind of love in the conclusion when Davy is called to the hospice to visit his father.  It is in this section in which Davy, “the quiet one” in this dialogue, comes fully to life and Joe shows yet another aspect of his personality and understanding of love and friendship.  The novel is involving and often enlightening, despite what some readers may consider its overly long analysis involving the inner life and loves of Joe, a not very thoughtful man who, nevertheless, has a good heart.  Once again, Roddy Doyle has brought aspects of Dublin and its people fully to life and shared them with an empathetic world.


Gardenia, a virtual plant in the virtual garden operated by the St. Francis Hospice, where Davy's father is stayling.

Gardenia, a virtual plant in the virtual garden operated by the St. Francis Hospice, where Davy’s father resides.


Photos. The author’s photo by Anthony Woods appears on https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com

The famous Palace Bar is from https://www.pinterest.com

Late in the novel Joe comments that life with Jess is like “livin’ in a fairy tale,” such as “Stardust.”  https://www.pinterest.com/

A virtual gardenia in the virtual garden operated by the St. Francis Hospice, where Davy’s father is staying.   https://hospicevirtualflowergarden.com/product/gardinea/

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Experimental, Ireland, Literary, Psychological study |
Written by: Roddy Doyle
Published by: Viking
Date Published: 06/23/2020
ISBN: 978-1984880451
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

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