By Roddy Doyle
This punch of a novel traces the first twenty years of Henry Smart, born into the slums of Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century. The young Smart competes with his dead younger brother Henry for the attention of his spirit-broken mother, while his father is out being bouncer and occasional hitman for a local business heavy. Henry turns to the streets for solace, where he is coopted into joining what will become the IRA. Although Henry doesn’t give a toss about Ireland and views the struggle along class lines, by the end of several years hard fighting for the likes of Michael Collins, he realises he has been nothing more than an ‘ijeet’ helping the rise of an Irish class of businessmen. The dialogue is of Doyle’s usual brilliant standard, and the characters he paints, including Miss O’Shea, the wife of Henry who is more determined to knock off peelers than he is, are wonderfully colourful. Doyle can evoke magic as he also writes of death and mayhem, making this novel a compelling read.