Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Henry Smart lives through the evolution of modern Ireland, and in this extraordinary novel he brilliantly tells his story. From his own birth and childhood on the streets of Dublin to his role as soldier (and lover) in the Irish Rebellion, Henry recounts his early years of reckless heroism and adventure. At once an epic, a love story, and a portrait of Irish history, A Star Called Henry is a grand picaresque novel brimming with both poignant moments and comic ones, and told in a voice that is both quintessentially Irish and inimitably Roddy Doyle's.
Hardy Irishman Doyle delivers his prose in a mellifluous outpouring, gentle in its use of language but harsh in its cutting observations. The beauty of Doyle's words, heightened in spoken presentation, is especially affecting in the opening section, which describes the tough childhood of his Dublin hero, Henry Smart (strongly evoking Dickens and Joyce). Henry is an orphan, left behind by his motherA"ruined beyond repair" at his birth. His father, a one-legged enforcer at a local brothel, doesn't last long either. Living on the streets at age nine, Henry is the sole protector of his consumptive younger brother. His circumstances never get him down, though, because he knows that he is "the brightest spark in a city full of bright and desperate sparks." As the plot develops (Henry takes part in the 1916 Easter uprising and joins the fledgling Irish Republican Army, evolving into a warrior and a leader), Doyle's story becomes more linear, more like a standard action thriller. Yet he never fails listeners with his strong storytelling skills, which will keep all keenly tuned. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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October 04, 2004
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Excerpt from A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
My mother looked up at the stars. There were plenty of them up there. She lifted her hand. It swayed as she chose one. Her finger pointed.
--There's my little Henry up there. Look it.
I looked, her other little Henry sitting beside her on the step. I looked up and hated him. She held me but she looked up at her twinkling boy. Poor me beside her, pale and red-eyed, held together by rashes and sores. A stomach crying to be filled, bare feet aching like an old, old man's. Me, a shocking substitute for the little Henry who'd been too good for this world, the Henry God had wanted for himself. Poor me.
And poor Mother. She sat on that step and other crumbling steps and watched her other babies joining Henry. Little Gracie, Lil, Victor, another little Victor. The ones I remember. There were others, and early others sent to Limbo; they came and went before they could be named. God took them all. He needed them all up there to light the night. He left her plenty, though. The ugly ones, the noisy ones, the ones He didn't want -- the ones that would never stay fed.
Poor Mother. She wasn't much more than twenty when she gazed up at little twinkling Henry but she was already old, already decomposing, ruined beyond repair, good for some more babies, then finished.
Poor Mammy. Her own mother was a leathery old witch, but was probably less than forty. She poked me, as if to prove that I was there.
--You're big, she said.
She was accusing me, weighing me, planning to takesome of me back. Always wrapped in her black shawl, she always smelt of rotten meat and herrings -- it was a sweat on her. Always with a book under the shawl, the complete works of Shakespeare or something by Tolstoy. Nash was her name but I don't know what she called herself before she married her dead husband. She'd no Christian name that I ever heard. Granny Nash was all she ever was. I don't know where she came from; I don't remember an accent. Wrapped in her sweating black shawl, she could have crept out of any century. She might have walked from Roscommon or Clare, pushed on by the stench of the blight, walked across the country till she saw the stone-eating smoke that lay over the piled, sagging fever-nests that made our beautiful city, walked in along the river, deeper and deeper, into the filth and shit, the noise and the money. A young country girl, never kissed, never touched, she was scared, she was thrilled. She turned around and back around and saw the four corners of hell. Her heart cried for Leitrim but her tits sang for Dublin. She got down on her back and yelled at the sailors to form a queue. Frenchmen, Danes, Chinamen, the Yanks. I don't know. A young country girl, a waif, just a child, aching for food. She'd left her family dead in a ditch, their chops green with grass juice, their bellies set to explode in the noonday sun. I don't know any of this. She might have been Dublin-bred. Or she might have been foreign. A workhouse orphan, a nun gone wrong. Transported from Australia, too ugly and bad for Van Diemen's Land. I don't know. She'd become a witch by the time I saw her. Always with her head in a book, looking for spells. She shoved her face forward with ancient certainty, knew every thought behind my eyes. She knew how far evil could drop. She stared at me with her cannibal's eyes and I had to dash down to the privy. Her eyes slammed the door after me.
And what do I know about poor Mother? Precious little. I know that she was Melody Nash. A beautiful name, promising so much. I know that she was born in Dublin and that she lived on Bolton Street. She worked in Mitchell's rosary bead factory on Marlborough Street. They made the beads out of cows' horns. All day, six days a week, sweating, going blind for God and Mitchell. Putting the holes in the beads for Jesus. Hands bleeding, eyes itching. Before she walked into my father.
Melody Nash. I think of the name and I don't see my mother. Melody melody. She skips, she laughs, her black eyes shine happy.