The Resurging Dubliners

The Guts

by Roddy Doyle
Viking, 328 pp., $27.95
Martine Franck/Magnum Photos
A cemetery of stolen cars in the Darndale Housing Estate, Dublin, 1993

Jimmy Rabbitte learns that he has cancer. He is middle-aged now and trying not to turn into his father, Jimmy Senior. But this is the same Jimmy Rabbitte who, as a grand and brilliant lad twenty years earlier, put together a Dublin soul band called the Commitments—the band that exploded on its launch pad and gave its name to Roddy Doyle’s first and most famous novel.

And this is the same Jimmy whose teenage sister Sharon (well, just twenty) got pregnant by some “disgustin’ ould fucker”—the father of one of her girlfriends—and became the protagonist of Doyle’s The Snapper. A leading role she shared with her father, Jimmy Senior, head of the noisy Rabbitte clan in a working-class suburb of North Dublin. Jimmy Senior, in turn, would later lose his job and buy a mobile fish-and-chips wagon with his friend Bimbo: the theme of The Van.

These three novels, published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, are known (though not by a slightly resentful Roddy Doyle) as the Barrytown Trilogy. The name is a fictional alias for Kilbarrack, the plebeian district where Doyle grew up and for many years taught. Now, unexpectedly, comes a fourth installment.

It’s the Rabbitte family again. But the twenty-year break has thrown the family into new patterns and perspectives. Jimmy Senior is still going to the same pub with some of the same old pals. But Sharon, with two grown-up children, is on the far periphery of this story and so are the other siblings of Jimmy Junior with one exception—his mysterious brother Les, who vanished to England many years ago and now reappears.

Ireland has changed, too. That’s putting it mildly. When the Commitments were tuning up to sound like Percy Sledge or James Brown, the ascetic Catholic republic was on the threshold of the fabulous “Celtic Tiger” wealth boom that transformed lives, swelled into a giant bubble, and then collapsed. The Guts begins in those times of bust as banks capsize, firms close down, and no job is safe. But Jimmy Junior and his wife Aoife, by luck rather than design, are more or less secure. Their music business had run into trouble and they sold most of it to their friend Noeleen, using the cash to pay off the mortgage on their house just as “the crunch” released its torrent of repossessions and bankruptcies.

The business, then and now, has been tiny, a niche. Aoife (a bit too beautiful, wise, patient, and sexy to be true) thought of it at the kitchen table a few years before. digs up and reissues the music of fierce, forgotten Irish groups who drove young Dubliners frantic a generation ago. From the attic, Jimmy brings down a stack of ancient, dusty singles that puzzle his children. “—What are…

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