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Old 4th May 2008, 10:03   #1
is beyond help
Colyngbourne's Avatar
Join Date: 30 Apr 2003
Location: England
Posts: 10,739
Default Book 53: A STAR CALLED HENRY by Roddy Doyle

Erm, it's looking like it might be lonely discussing this one with myself. Anyone else in the running?

I've never read any Roddy Doyle before so was pleasantly impressed by the first half of the book: "a proper story going on" was my initial reaction. And once you've got past the grime and the squalid survival tactics of the young Henry Smart (rapscallion is too polite a word for what he is), it starts getting all political which is fascinating but only so far. I can fairly state that I know/knew next to nothing about the beginnings of Irish independence and the Easter risings other than from the film Michael Collins, watched a decade ago, and snippets picked up from Mr Col's mother, who is related to Collins - some cousiny link in the great-great-ancestry - and who likes to read lots of books on Irish history, unlike me.

I have to say that were it not for the idea of Liam Neeson's face, propelling me through the political bits, I would have got more fed up with the story than I did. It seemed to lose its focus half-way through and Henry turned from a fascinating rough with an insight into the class differences in the struggles, into a thuggish tool for the powers-that-be. His incipient fame as a folk legend in the fight for independence is so quickly submersed by the realpolitik, and he loses his focus and meaning as the years go by. Inevitably, even by the ripe old age of 20, he is setting towards settling-down and realising his mistakes.

For me, the character wasn't consistent enough - the water divining became suddenly evident in the last chapters, where never really mentioned before; he had so many unfeasible lucky breaks and the romance with Miss O'Shea was overcooked. Once Henry's star was no longer at the centre of things, he was a far less interesting character and more of an automaton: the reader no longer saw into the heart of his motivation or his understanding of how the new country would form from its beginnings. I could cope with him being cocky and arrogant and hair-raising but not with him being so clever in one way and unthinking in another.

I'm going to rewatch Michael Collins on Bank Holiday Monday.

½ for the whole, for the first half.
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