THE DEAD REPUBLIC by Roddy Doyle

Book Quote:

“You won’t get away with calling the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland a cunt. Three times.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage (JUL 25, 2010)

The Dead Republic from Irish author Roddy Doyle is the third volume in The Last Roundup trilogy. In the first volume, A Star Called Henry, Henry Smart is a youthful soldier for the IRA. He participates in the Easter Uprising of 1916 and fights in the Irish War for Independence. In the second volume, Oh, Play That Thing, the action shifts to America with Henry, his wife and two children trying to eke a living in the depression era. Henry loses a leg and becomes separated from his family. The Dead Republic picks up Henry’s saga for the third and final installment.

The first section of The Dead Republic, the weakest part of the novel, finds Henry in Ireland. It’s 1951, and Henry works as the IRA consultant to director John Ford. Flashbacks reveal Henry’s life in Hollywood and his sometimes difficult relationship with Ford. In one scene, John Ford shows Henry “The Informer,” a film that Henry finds inaccurate but still strangely entertaining:

“None of the corners or accents were real. And some of it was just ridiculous. There was a bit at the start, a flashback, where Gypo and Frankie, old comrades and pals, stood at a bar, singing and drinking, with rifles on their backs. All through the film the lads in the trenchcoats were afraid that the informer would point them out. But they still brought their rifles when they went out for a few pints. It was full of things that made no sense at all.”

Ford also makes “The Quiet Man” starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne–a film that at first enrages Henry because he thinks it’s based on his life. The Ireland in the film, however, doesn’t exist anywhere. It’s a Hollywood concoction–a fantasy version designed to win at the box office:

“It’s the story of Ireland. Catholics and Protestants side by side in harmony. Fishing and horse racing. It’s every German’s idea of paradise. And it’s sexy as well.”

Later Henry breaks with Ford and settles back in Ireland where he lands a job as a caretaker of a boys’ school. He strikes up a relationship with a widow called Missis O’Kelly, and yet there’s something about her that reminds Henry of his long-lost wife, Miss O’Shea As time goes on, Henry finds himself dragged back into politics.

The second section of The Dead Republic is the strongest part of the novel, and this is in spite of the fact that Henry serves less as a character and more as a witness of history in the ever-changing face of Ireland. As a survivor of the Easter Rebellion, he’s the subject of great interest, and he finds he’s become a “holy relic.” While Henry agrees with some aspects of the fight, he disagrees with others. As an old warrior, he notes that thanks to the British, the IRA never has problems with recruitment, and that makes Margaret Thatcher the greatest recruitment tool ever:

“The hunger strike had been lost. But it hadn’t. Defeat was always more valuable–the better songs came out of it. Thatcher had done what she’d always been supposed to do. She’d let Irishmen die. They nailed themselves to the cross and she sat in the shade and watched. Cromwell came, slaughtered the innocents, and left. The surviving Irish, in the absence of a grave, pissed on his memory. But Thatcher came, and she stayed. The strikers died in 1981, but she was still Prime Minister years later. She killed Argentineans, she broke the heads of her own coal miners. She was the Provisionals’ greatest asset. She was living, breathing evil and she was on the telly every night.”

The novel raises some interesting moral questions about the choices Henry has made; an old enemy returns from his past, and even though these differences have supposedly resolved themselves over time, the relationship still boils down to a matter of dislike. Both men ask themselves if the sacrifices they made were worth it–after all the fight continues and is muddier than ever–at one point Henry is used by the IRA while at another juncture he’s accused of being an informer. The novel also makes it clear that with a civil war, it’s impossible to avoid involvement. The political situation surrounds Henry and sometimes he’s aware of it–at other times he makes the discovery. While character is repeatedly sacrificed to history, Doyle uses a deft hand when it comes to placing Henry in his role as a witness to the ugly events: the kidnapping of Shergar, the collusion of the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force with British agents, the in-fighting between splinter groups, the hunger strikes and the Five Demands of political prisoners. Henry is the amazed and sometimes sickened witness to events that pass before his eyes as though they are produced by a Magic Lantern.

Almost sixty years of Irish history is swept through in just over 300 pages. That’s a huge undertaking and the novel suffers as a result. Those who know little about Irish politics in the last few years will feel their heads reeling. However, if you have a foundation of Irish history, then The Dead Republic won’t be confusing. The story should be approached with the idea in mind that the book is less a novel and more a testament.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Viking Adult (April 29, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Roddy DoyleWikipedia page on Roddy Doyle
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Bibliography:

Barrytown Trilogy:

  • The Commitments (1987)
  • The Snapper (1990)
  • The Van (1991)

The Last Roundup Trilogy:

Paula Spencer Novels:

Children’s Books:

Nonfiction:

Movies from books:


July 25, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Ireland, Reading Guide, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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