The exhilarating dangers of Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha mature in Doyle's latest bookby Josie Mitchell / December 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
For Irish novelist Roddy Doyle, childhood is as dangerous as it is exhilarating. In Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha—his most celebrated novel, which won the 1993 Booker Prize—children mess around with lighter fluid, charge down empty sewage pipes and get knocked about by teachers. Doyle’s latest novel, Smile, is a bleaker affair, and his most extreme exploration to date of the tension between schoolboy nostalgia and suppressed trauma.
We encounter Victor Forde nursing a pint and contemplating his life’s ruin: newly separated from his wife, he’s back in his old Dublin neighbourhood at the age of 54, dragging himself to the pub each night, as if “going to the gym or mass.” Victor hopes to reground himself with chat about football and golf, but a run-in with an old school friend triggers ambivalent memories of his years being taught by the Christian Brothers.
There are two threads of reminiscence in this book, and they don’t quite come together. Victor’s stunted radio career and aspirational relationship with celebrity chef Rachel Carey; and the physical and sexual abuse he received from his teachers as a child. Doyle is nuanced in his apportioning of sympathy—in one memorable scene an elderly Brother sits in on the school rehearsal of his own funeral.