Review of Books
Recently published books of Irish and Irish-American interest
Roddy Doyle, bestselling Irish author of The Commitments, has completed his Last Roundup trilogy about IRA rebel Henry Smart with the epic and engrossing finale The Dead Republic. The series, which includes novels A Star Called Henry and Oh! Play That Thing and spans the 20th-century history of Ireland, traces the journey of the legendary character as he passes through identities, escapes and losses, encountering historical figures and events in Ireland and America on the way.
The third installment, which takes the reader up to the present day, opens on the aging Henry’s return to Ireland for the first time since his 1922 escape, one of his legs and his darling wife and children long lost. He is rescued on the verge of dying in the California desert by Henry Fonda and becomes a writer/IRA consultant collaborating with famed director John Ford in the making of The Quiet Man.
Henry’s memories are drawn out of him in interrogation-like sessions, from his work as an assassin to what songs his wife, legendary rebel Miss O’Shea whose role is taken up in Ford’s film by the illustrious Maureen O’Hara, used to sing. Smart and Ford’s relationship is complex and elegantly rendered, its contentiousness and intimacy eventually coming to a head. After parting ways with Hollywood, Henry becomes the caretaker at a boys’ school in a quiet village north of Dublin, but there’s more to the inner workings of the school than initially meets the eye. He begins gardening for an old woman named Missus O’Kelly, whose familiarity hints at a secret life long past.
As he grows old and older, Smart’s political involvement and rebel past remain an integral part of him; they will not die until he does. The theme at the heart of the novel is the idea of Irishness: who gets to decide what it means to be Irish, to love Ireland, and the bloody violence that follows the question.
– Kara Rota
($26.95 / 329 pages / Viking)
I read Irish-American author Jonathan Dee’s new novel, The Privileges, in one sitting. Meaning to start a few pages before bed, I stayed up for hours, transfixed. The Privileges is a delectable work spanning twenty-some years in the lives of Adam and Cynthia Morey, a young, ambitious bride and groom described in their wedding toast as ‘a charmed couple.’ Jonathan Franzen called the book “a cunning, seductive novel about the people we thought we’d all agreed to hate.” This is accurate: the Moreys, from the beginning, are perfect to the point of alienation. They smugly taunt their parents’ awe of them and shrug off siblings, instead insulating their nuclear family with an exponentially growing layer of wealth and privilege. Their likeability is a feat of Dee’s artful prose.
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