Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle

I was first introduced to Doyle’s work on stage, in Dublin with my father back in 1994 when we saw his fantastic play Brown Bread. A Star Called Henry similarly uses comedy to take on big themes, and there’s little bigger than the birth of his country and the Easter Rising which forms the main part of the first half of the novel.

Henry is a fourteen year old youth, six foot two, handy with his fists, and already a soldier in the Irish Citizen Army. His father was a doorman at a brothel, a one legged bruiser who would swing his wooden prosthetic with skull-cracking dexterity, the bane of rozzers and drunken punters.

Henry Senior’s first meeting with Henry’s mother is hardly auspicous. Twenty two, one legged and dead drunk, he stumbles straight in front of the lovely Melody Nash as she walks back from early mass on Sunday:

She walked right into my father. Melody Nash met Henry Smart. She walked right into him, and he fell. She was half his weight, half his height, six years younger but he fell straight over like a cut tree. Love at first sight? Felled by her beauty? No. He was maggoty drunk and missing his leg.

At first, she not unreasonably concludes that he’s dead. She checks for life and gets little more than monosyllables:

The man groaned again. He drew his arms in and braced himself. Then he crawled one kneed off the road, over the gutter. Melody picked up the shovel. He groaned again and vomited. A day and half’s drinking poured out of him like black pump water.

And yet Henry Senior is also an absolute charmer and whisks young Melody off her feet. Soon enough they’re getting hitched, and the wedding is in full swing. Melody is getting ‘the talk’ about babies from all the older women in the room. Fortunately, there’s a distraction and she can escape:

She was saved by the fight that broke out when a couple of moochers that nobody knew were caught helping themselves to the bottles of stout. – Yer dirty lousers! Granny Nash jumped onto one of them and bit him on the cheek... The man was trying to save his face but his arms were stiffened by all the bottles and sandwiches stuffed up his sleeves.

For some reason, Melody thinks that this is unsuitable conduct for her wedding:

Melody had had enough. – You’re ruining my day! she screamed. Granda Nash dropped the leg. – Sure Jaysis, love, he said. –The day would’ve been ruined altogether if they’d got away with the rest of the bottles.

And so on to Henry Junior, who abandoned to the streets at the age of nine, finds himself manning the barricades at the GPO in Easter 1916...

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