The Guts

By Roddy Doyle

(Vking Adult, $26.95, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

Roddy Doyle lives in Dublin and his novels embody the ups and downs of life in that quintessentially Irish city. He’s written lots of novels, as well as children’s books, plays and screenplays and many short stories. He won the prestigious Booker Prize In i993 for “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” and “The Van” was a 1991 Booker Prize finalist.

Doyle is perhaps best known for his “Barrytown Trilogy,” three novels set in working-class Dublin  about the indomitable Jimmy Rabbitte, whose story is told in “The Commitments,” “The Snapper” and “The Van,”  all of which were made into feature films. Now there’s “The Guts,” perhaps the last of the series, which I guess makes it the Barrytown Quadrology. Or something like that..

What is this book about?

Jimmy Rabbitte is a musician, husband, father, dreamer, schemer and a bit of a rogue: in short, a delightful character. In the ‘80s, against all odds, he put together a band called The Commitments, which played American soul music and was an unlikely success. Now Jimmy is older and wiser, but  not necessarily smarter in his choices – and suddenly facing a diagnosis of cancer. Does this floor him? Not our Jimmy. He reaches out to lost pals and estranged family members, and he’s got some ideas about making some money off the rumored visit of Pope Benedict. He may be down, but he’s surely not out. And he still has his music.

Why you’ll like it:

The hallmark of Doyle’s writing is his lively, raunchy dialogue – so vivid it is like a character itself  as well as the prime driver of the plot, along with his great good humor and his piquant characters. It’s a cliché to say Irish storytellers have the gift of gab, but Doyle really does possess it. What he also demonstrates is heart and a flair for being poignant without being treacly. If you’ve never read the Barrytown Trilogy, you’ll have fun meeting Jimmy Rabbitte through this book, but I am betting it will send you back to the first three for the full picture.

What others are saying:

The New York Times Book Review says: “Sequels, of course, are tricky things. All too often they feel like products of convenience, if not of commercial necessity…Yet these fears were rapidly dispelled by Doyle’s unsentimental way with both scene and sentence. He’s not milking anything here, and whatever possible bathos inheres in a book that’s going to twine mortal confrontation with light-stepping domestic comedy, Doyle coolly avoids it…I was undone by the emotional clarity of the writing itself, and by the calm, yet never static, way Doyle has of presenting a scene…What saves The Guts from sentimentality, too, is Doyle’s deft tendency to play on the backbeat, so to speak, to give us not the moment of confrontation, but the moment of consequence…The effect is gorgeously understated, and lets the book’s high comedy, as well as its melancholy, have its full due. “

Says Publishers Weekly: “Booker Prize–winner Doyle returns with this hilarious and tender pseudo-sequel to The Commitments. Jimmy Rabbitte—last seen as the brash, young manager of the Commitments—is now middle-aged. He’s still kicking around Dublin, married, with four kids, and working as a reasonably successful promoter of nostalgia bands—one-hit wonders that have been generally forgotten. When Jimmy is diagnosed with bowel cancer, however, he finds himself suddenly reevaluating his life, his decisions, and his legacy. While Jimmy endures his treatments, he must also contend with a tanking Irish economy that is drying up jobs (and potential music sales); his kids, who act out as they struggle with their dad’s diagnosis; and the Pope’s scheduled visit to Ireland, which Jimmy is sure he can find a way to make money on. Only two other Commitments make significant appearances in Doyle’s latest. Imelda, the most desirable Commitmentette, is still turning heads in middle age. And Jimmy reunites with Outspan, his old rhythm guitarist, outside a chemotherapy center where they are both, coincidentally, seeking treatment. While clearly dealing with more serious issues than its predecessor, Doyle’s witty and lively ninth novel still captures much of the fun of The Commitments, even as the Commitments themselves struggle with a notably more sobering world around them.”

“It’s rare to read about a man’s midlife crisis, complete with a stalled career, bowel cancer, and an extramarital affair, and burst out laughing. Yet acclaimed Irish author Doyle  . . . pulls it off with his trademark running dialog replete with Irish obscenities and sly musical references. Readers may remember Jimmy Rabbitte from Doyle’s first novel, The Commitments. Now a music promoter reviving old bands at, Jimmy is your average bloke trying to pay his bills, raise his kids, and come to terms with his own mortality, all while struggling with text messaging and other modern tribulations. When Jimmy and some lads, including his estranged brother Les and former Commitments guitarist Liam “Outspan” Foster, take in an outdoor music festival (think: Irish Woodstock), hilarity ensues. There are plenty of poignant moments among the laughs, too. VERDICT Sensitive readers may not get past the foul language, which is a shame, and even Anglophiles may need to read sections aloud to decipher the Irish slang, but this work is too good to miss. Grand!” says  Library Journal.

Kirkus Reviews says:  “. . . The publication of The Commitments (1987) established Doyle as a master of the Irish vernacular, earning its place on the short shelf of great rock novels and inspiring a movie that reached an even wider audience. The prolific author has since written some novels that are even better than the first, though his recent output has been more erratic. This represents a return to form, not quite a sequel to that debut and not quite as good but a novel that shows how the musical generation he chronicled earlier is now dealing with mortality, family, nostalgia and all sorts of issues of getting older but not necessarily smarter (or, in some cases, happier). Protagonist Jimmy Rabbitte, who formed and managed the Commitments, is still a musical hustler, but now his racket is reuniting and reissuing music from bands of that earlier era, many of whom he holds in great contempt. It seems that even in the midst of an economic downturn, “[t]he middle aged are still finding the money to fund their nostalgia.” There’s a hilarious middle-aged, punk-rock duo–a married couple who break up (the band at least) during every session . . Much of the book is very funny, audaciously so, considering that Jimmy is suffering from bowel cancer, undergoing chemo (while reading Chemotherapy & Radiation for Dummies), cheating on his saintly wife and watching while the country’s entire economy goes down the toilet. Yet, it is full of loose ends–a reconciliation with his brother, the attempt to fake a recording from 1932–that the author never ties together, perhaps since Jimmy’s is not the sort of tidy life. Whatever its novelistic flaws, the rock criticism and pop-culture insights are sharp throughout.”

“The feat of The Guts is Doyle’s ability to create in Jimmy a character who hangs together even while so many of his certainties have collapsed.  And to get a few good jokes in as well,” says The Washington Post.

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library has Roddy Doyle’s gutsy book.

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