There's just something about Roddy Doyle's writing that reminds me of The Pogues song "Bottle of Smoke." It's just so quintessentially fast-paced, direct, and full of great storytelling. These short stories speed along like a day at the races, and reading them feels like you've come ahead a winner -- 'like a drunken f*ck on a Saturday night, up came that Bottle of Smoke.' All thirteen stories are from a man's point of view, that's not to say that there aren't female characters, but these men, some older, some younger, have all reached middle age. They've watched their kids grow up, they've watched their parents grow old, they've had jobs, they've lost them, they've lived and loved, but most of all, they've survived.
Doyle's writing, so succinct, so of the moment, and his dialogue and the entire demeanor of the stories remains so refreshing, that you feel like you're sitting next to the author in a pub as he tells the story. Despite their similarities, the characters are all still so distinct -- and it reminds me of a great writing lesson that I was once told by a teacher who really, really disliked me and what I had to say -- they each have something that defines them, that stops them from becoming a stereotype, whether it's a reaction to a situation or a particular thing they love about the woman that became their wife.
I enjoyed each and every one of these stories, so it's hard to pull one or two out as my favourites. They all blended together so nicely, like an evening of conversation at a pub with a group of old, familiar friends, and the writing is so controlled that there isn't a sense of unevenness that I generally find with short story collections. I enjoyed "Teacher" and "Bullfighting" -- as both dealt with interesting situations -- the former, a man's struggle with alcoholism; the latter, a group of friends who take a trip to Spain. Male friendship isn't always explored in the books that I read on a regular basis. It's either there as a crutch, a necessary side-kick and/or reason to move the plot along in a mystery, but in "Bullfighting," it's the central theme of the story. These four men have know each other forever, and they don't have to talk about their feelings or share their inner secrets, they can just sit around and shoot the shit. And Doyle knows just how to write it to ensure that there's a poignancy to the everyday that can't be avoided, that needs to be celebrated.
It's a wonderful collection. And for all my ranting about reading far too many short story collections these days, I have to say that I'd take one by Doyle over a novel just about any day. It's just excellent.