Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Guts

I always have mixed feelings about Roddy Doyle's books, and this one was no exception.  He can be very funny but his topics are really dark.  It also takes a little while to get into the rhythm of the Irish accent, but once you do the language flows effortlessly.  This book was a sequel to one of his earliest novels, The Commitments, which I had not read.  It could still understand the book, but I can't say whether I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been more familiar with the characters.

The book centred on Jimmy Rabbitte, a 47 year old married man with 4 children who is diagnosed with bowel cancer and thinks he may be dying.  He had been the member of a band in his youth (the Commitments, of the earlier book) and now he works at finding old bands then finding the people who used to love them and getting them to buy their resurrected songs.  His business had been successful for a time but is dwindling.  So he has his son's band pretend to be an old band and create a "long lost" song recording.  The band then, mistaken for a Bulgarian band on youtube does a cover of the song that "sounds remarkably like the original".

So the book swings between the humour of the fake band making fake music and the depressing scenes about Jimmy's surgery and chemotherapy - and the debilitating side effects.  In chemo he meets up with a former band member who is even worse off; feeling vulnerable he also has an affair with the former lead singer of his band.  The book ends at a Woodstock like music festival where Jimmy camps out with his long lost brother, the band member dying of cancer and another loser middle aged man who is teaching him to play the trumpet.  They all watch Jimmy's son perform - and Jimmy can't help but reveal the truth about what he is.

The various relationships Jimmy has - with his wife, his children, his father, his boss and his old friends are really what holds the book together.  It's a good read, but not a fantastic one.

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