hide captionRoddy Doyle is the author of the Barrytown Trilogy, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Woman Who Walked into Doors. He lives in Dublin.
Roddy Doyle is the author of the Barrytown Trilogy, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Woman Who Walked into Doors. He lives in Dublin.
Roddy Doyle writes about Ireland, but not an Ireland of green fields and picturesque country pubs. Doyle's first book, The Commitments, was about young people in a gritty part of Dublin who form a soul band. His new novel, The Dead Republic, is the final book in a trilogy about the fictional Henry Smart, who, over the course of three books, has been both a foot soldier in the Irish war for independence and the manager of a young Louis Armstrong in New York City. In The Dead Republic, Henry is working for the famous American movie director John Ford. Though Ford is known for his Westerns, after World War II he decides to make a movie about Ireland.
Ford promises Henry that the movie, The Quiet Man, will tell the story of Henry's life with the Irish Republican Army. But much to Henry's disgust, the film becomes a love letter to rural Ireland.
"John Ford created one of the great myths of American history and American culture, and he did the same with The Quiet Man for Ireland, a place that he loved," Doyle tells NPR's Lynn Neary. Ireland was "a place that [Ford] didn't know all that well, but like a lot of Irish Americans, [he] absolutely adored the place.
Doyle says that in that relationship — between the feelings of nostalgia and love from Irish Americans to a homeland they did not know and in which they did not live — was a key to the development of culture and history in Ireland in the 20th century. "In the '50s, '60s, '70s — when Ireland was kind of an economic backwater," Doyle says, "we had to kowtow to a notion of what Ireland was in the hopes that tourists would arrive."
That deferential quality, embodied in Ford's realization of Ireland in The Quiet Man, causes Henry to call the film "the emigrant's dream." But Doyle says he has visited the spot in Ireland where the film was made. "The beauty of the landscape is there," he says, and the people who live there don't share Henry Smart's sense of outrage.
"Actually, it's very easy to slip into conversation that wouldn't be altogether different from some of the conversations in The Quiet Man. I don't think people would feel anger. It'd be more at this point amusement as much as anything else."
The Dead Republic By Roddy Doyle Hardcover, 336 pages Viking Adult List price: $26.95
Henry gets so angry that he wants to kill the filmmaker for sullying his vision of Ireland, a vision that Doyle says is tied to Henry's sense of himself and the decisions he's made.
"Henry feels, I suppose, that he's wasted his life somehow," Doyle says. "It's a life full of drama and escape, but really he's been running away from things most of his life. And I suppose he sees the film as stopping and turning around and assessing his life; the ugliness of a lot of the things that he did, he thinks, is going to be an important part of the story.
"But what happens is that basically in the compromises, his life — the reason why he was involved in this thing — keeps slipping off the page, and the whole tone of the thing [changes] from being a story which exposes the ultimate stupidity of the Irish war of independence from his point of view, and the grimness of the violence and the reality of shooting someone in the head, [and] actually becomes a celebration of the rural Irish way of life and a wonderful comedy that had nothing in common."
Eventually, Henry himself decides that what he wants is to lead a quiet life. But the past catches up with him. As the book stretches forward into the 1970s, he becomes involved again in the IRA. It's an era Doyle knows well, the one where Henry's life finally begins to overlap with the author's experience — of the Dublin he knew as a young man. But at first, as Doyle points out, Henry doesn't notice the trouble brewing, until he witnesses a bombing on Talbot Street.
"Throughout the troubles, very few bombs went off in Dublin, but I have vivid memories of this particular day because I actually heard the bomb," Doyle says. "I was at home at a place where my parents still live called Kilbarrack. Myself and my mother were in the kitchen — I think I was literally just pouring myself a glass of water — and we heard this explosion. It was distant, but we knew immediately it was an explosion.
"But the bombing, the reprisals, the counter-reprisals, the kneecappings, all the ugliness — the horribleness — was a daily part of the news, really. You could get on with your life, you could fall in love, you could get a job, you could do all the things that everybody does everywhere, but if you were Irish, you had to live with either trying to ignore the violence and feel guilty about it or to confront it and feel guilty about it."
Much of The Dead Republic, as Henry is working on John Ford's pastoral vision of the countryside and later becomes involved in the IRA uprising more than 20 years later, is about clashing visions of Ireland. Late in the book, an IRA man tells Henry that the war was always about who got to hold the copyright on what it means to be Irish.
Doyle says the diffusion of culture in Ireland — results of the link to Irish Americans and the fact that the Irish speak English, he says — have made the country a "very self-conscious place."
"We seem to punch beyond our weight, so to speak," Doyle says. He worries about history repeating itself, if not in physical violence, then in the selling of Irish culture. "It's happening again because the economy, as you're probably aware, has hit, if not rock bottom, pretty close. And I suppose while the bankers and politicians have let us down, culture really hasn't, and suddenly the power of books and literature — and to a lesser extent, I suppose, film — has come to the fore again."
Of vital importance now, Doyle says, is just who will decide what it is to be Irish.
"Will it be us, the citizens of Ireland that actually live there? Or will it be some kind of marketing department of the Civil Service who will try to define what Irish culture is in the hopes of enticing people to arrive and spend their money?" he asks. "When I was a kid, if you didn't speak Irish, you really wanted to. And you played Gaelic games and you didn't pay any attention to what was happening in the outside world, because really, Ireland was the center of the universe. And I don't think that's the case anymore. Although, admittedly, it is the center of the universe."
Excerpt: 'The Dead Republic'
by Roddy Doyle
The Dead Republic By Roddy Doyle Hardcover, 336 pages Viking Adult List price: $26.95
I knew it wasn't Bill before I opened the door. I should have known. I did know. —Where's your uniform? I asked her. It was Maureen O'Hara standing there. And I wasn't surprised. —Come in. —Thank you. She walked past me. Three good steps and she was in the centre of the room. She didn't look around and she didn't look uneasy. —He's such a rude man, she said. This was five days after I'd seen her on the boat. —Ford? I said. —Yes, she said. —Mister Ford. She looked straight at me. She didn't smile. —I have to warn you, she said. —Turn down Mister Ford and he's a demon. —Grand. —But he's right about one thing, she said. —You are the real thing, even at your age. A little Dublin gurrier. —He sent you. —He did not. —Okay. —I sent myself. —Grand. Why? —To meet you, she said. —Why? —I wanted to, she said. —And I thought I was going to, on The Araner. What part of Dublin are you from?
—All over, I said. —It's been a long time. She was lovely, gorgeous — the words weren't there to put her together. —Yourself? —Ranelagh, she said. —Originally. I nodded. —You remember it? —Yeah, I said. —Sort of. I'd been in the water under Ranelagh with my father and, later, I'd cycled and crept through Ranelagh, in the crooked line of duty. There'd been safe houses there, tucked in under the leafy respectability. I'd robbed books from good houses in Ranelagh, for my granny; I'd more than likely lifted books from this woman's house, right from off her mother's bedside table. —I hate that boat, she said. —I'm not a natural sailor at all. —I saw you in The Black Swan, I said. —You looked alright. —That was all done in the studio, she said.—Nowhere near the sea. The water in the tank is only two feet deep. Did you likeThe Black Swan? —No. —Why not? She stared at me. —You were good in it, I said. —Thank you. The stare became something softer. —He actually does like to write his scripts on the Araner, she said. —Away from everything. And he really was hoping to get working on your script. And — —What? —Well, she said. —He drinks. Very heavily. It's disgusting, as a matter of fact. But he only does it between pictures. —With you? —No, she said. —How dare you. Her anger was quick and impressive, and she had it back in her bag before it got properly out. —He has his cronies, she said. —You'll meet them. —I've met some. —Grand. —I'm not one of them. —No, she said. —No. He keeps you well away. He has too much respect for you. He wouldn't want you involved.
She didn't look like an actress reciting the lines she'd been told to learn and deliver. —So anyway, she said. —He sails off for a few days, clears the head after all the shenanigans, and comes back ready for work. He's home tomorrow. Then we're off. Rio Grande is the name of the new one. I'm in it. —I know. —Good for you. She wasn't at the end of Ford's hook. There was something about her that made that obvious. It wasn't the beauty, although it was that too. It was the thing that made her so completely beautiful, and familiar — her independence, the strength in her eyes. —Oh, she said. —There was me saying Mister Ford was rude and I didn't even tell you who I am yet. —I know who you are. —You don't, she said. —You know nothing about me. I'm Maureen FitzSimons. —Grand. —I'm Maureen FitzSimons of Churchtown Road and you're Henry Smart of all over. —That's it. —But we're both from Dublin and that's the main thing. —Ah now, I said. —You're just being sentimental. —And that's another thing I want to warn you about, she said. —I left before the war, twelve years ago now, and I'm desperately sentimental about the place. But no one — She leaned forward, just a bit. —No one is as sentimental as the Irishman who was never there in the first place. —Ford. —Mister Ford, she said. —Yes. —Why is that a warning? I asked her. —Well, she said. —He told me you won't read the story. —The Quiet Man. —Yes, she said. —You should. —Why should I? —I think you should know what's happening. I love the story. Mister Ford loves the story. Duke loves it. No mention of Henry Fonda. I said nothing. —We all love it, she said. —It's a love story, you know.
I nodded. —And he wants to make it yours, she said. —And that's fine. It's easily done. He told me there was a lady in your life. I nodded. —Mary Kate, she said. And I nodded. —Was she lovely? —Yeah, I said. —She was. —And you know I'm going to play her? —So he said. —And how's that? —Grand. —I'm a tough Irishwoman. —You're starting to sound like him, I told her. She laughed. I could feel it flow past me. —But, she said, and the laugh left her face, —he'll give in, you know. —What? —He'll give in to the sentimentality. —What d'you mean? —He wants to blend the two stories. The Quiet Man and yours. But The Quiet Man will win. —How do you know this? —I just do, she said. —I've been in this town long enough to know a thing or two. He's desperate to make it. He has been desperate, oh God — for ever. He asked me years ago. To play her. Long before he ever laid eyes on you. Something heavy dropped through me. I waited a second before I spoke. —What's going on? —Nothing, she said. —Nothing sinister at all. It's just — She looked away, for the first time. —I wanted to warn you. She looked at me again. —I met a few of those quiet men, she said. —At home. Some of Daddy's friends. Never a word out of them about the things they did and saw. I said nothing now myself. —I've been away a long time, she said. —But I love Ireland all the more because of that. I admire the men who did what they had to do. And you were one of them.You and Mary Kate.
Her face was so big then, so enormous and bright — I thought she was going to fall back on the bed. —That woman, she said. —I really want to play her. Be her. I want to fight for Ireland. She stayed on her feet and looked at me — right into me. —That's why I'm here, she said. —You have to fight for Mary Kate. —Why? —Your Mary Kate isn't in The Quiet Man, she said. —There's a good woman in it but she's no Mary Kate. She moved to the window. She stood against the blind. —Mister Ford is a genius, she said. —And he wants to do right by you. Don't doubt that, please. He'll bring the two stories together. But he'll come under the pressure to drop your side of it. Too violent, too real, too blessed tragic. But I want to be the woman in your story. A woman who fights. The love of your life. And that uniform — holy God. She laughed. —There's never been a woman like her, she said. —Never, ever. We'd be making bloody history. —Grand. —He's on our side, Mister Smart. But you'll have to fight.
From The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle. Copyright 2010 by Roddy Doyle. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.