Sunday 22 April 2018

Poor Jimmy Rabbitte and his Celtic Tiger hangover


The Guts

Roddy Doyle

Jonathan Cape, €14.99

Jimmy Rabbitte from The Commitments is back. He's now 47 years old, is married with four kids and still loves his music. He has bowel cancer. And he may or may not be dying (he can never quite make up his mind). That's the premise of Roddy Doyle's new novel, The Guts, a sequel to the well-loved Commitments, which was part of the Barrytown trilogy. The Guts is already flying high in the bestseller charts and a stage musical of The Commitments is about to open in the West End. Everybody still wants a piece of Jimmy Rabbitte Junior.

Jimmy's whole world is affected by his cancer, from his brusque father's self-conscious displays of affection, to his strapping eldest son Marvin's silent withdrawal, to his devoted wife Aoife's palpable anxiety. Even his estranged brother Les over in England gets in on the act. And with the cancer comes fear, and guilt about what the fear is doing to his family. And 'what ifs'. Then Imelda Quirke appears on the scene, gorgeous as ever. What's a dying man to do?

Whereas The Commitments had all the hallmarks of youth: it was brash, colourful and fizzing with energy, The Guts is quieter, more reflective, and much more bittersweet.

It's not without its moments of hilarity though. Jimmy works for a company he set up which resurrects old records from obscure Irish bands for nostalgic middle- aged rockers and punks. One such obscure Irish band is a husband and wife duo called The Halfbreds, who in reality are the height of middle class respectability – the husband works for the Department of Finance and is said to have the ear of the minister, and their kids are in private schools. At the weekends, however, they enjoy reliving their punk youth and breaking up with each other in the middle of songs with delightfully absurd lyrics like: 'She's showin' me Howth Junction – And the bitch don't know – I have erectile dysfunction.'

All through The Guts there are signs of the times, of the modern day Dublin that Jimmy Rabbitte inhabits. The couple in the house next door have their house repossessed and abandon it in the middle of one night, leaving without explanation to the neighbours.

Jimmy's own company shrinks and they are forced to move into offices in the back garden belonging to his boss's mother.

But it's not all bad. Jimmy's kids are mad for the music of his youth. And music in general. Which leads to a very funny finale at the Electric Picnic, involving Jimmy's son Marvin, who has to pretend to be a mysterious Bulgarian YouTube sensation called Boris, for the sake of Jimmy's latest wheeze, to resurrect Irish songs from the year 1932, the same year as the last Eucharistic Congress (don't ask).

Jimmy Rabbitte was the driving force behind The Commitments, back when no one had an arse in their trousers. Fast forward 20 years and still no one has an arse in their trousers but everything is different, changed utterly and Doyle explores post-boom Ireland with gusto and references to phenomena like Katie Taylor's Olympic gold last year to The Rubberbandits' YouTube hits abound. Writing a sequel to something as successful as The Commitments must be about curiosity as much as anything for an author. And it is this curiosity that will lead many fans and new readers alike to The Guts, to see how a Barrytown stalwart like Rabbitte copes in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland after the meow has been taken out of it.

Sunday Independent

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