The Guts by Roddy Doyle

Jimmy Rabbitte Jr., the protagonist of The Commitments, reappears in Roddy Doyle’s new novel, The Guts. In The Commitments, Jimmy Jr. was the 21-year-old firebrand manager of the hardest working Soul band in working-class Dublin. Now forty-seven with the demands and responsibilities of family life, the novel begins with Jimmy announcing to his father Jimmy Sr. that he has bowel cancer. What follows is how Jimmy Jr. navigates disease, family crises, job pressures, a bleak economic landscape, and a reunion with an old flame from his past. Lest this description make The Guts sound like a total downer, be advised that Doyle is a master of levity and wicked humor in the face of a bad situation. His dialogue is a joy to behold, profane and lively and full of energy like this exchange:

—Usin’ her feminine charms, yeah?
—Yeah. Spot on.
—She’s wastin’ her time, said Jimmy’s da.
—Wha’?
—Norman, said Jimmy’s da.—Did yeh not notice?
—He’s gay…
—Norman?
—The Norman in there, yeah.
—He’s gay?
—Yeah.
—Since when?
—Wha’?
—Like, he’s old, said Jimmy.

Also tying the two books together is Jimmy’s love affair with music and the ways in which we use music to bridge relationships in our lives. Throughout The Guts, Jimmy uses music to renew bonds with his children and friends and his quest for the perfect Irish song is a particularly satisfying storyline. The culminating scenes at an Irish outdoor music festival are lovely and low-key though Doyle is ever-wary of sentiment turning into saccharine. If you’re still looking to celebrate St. Patrick’s with some Irish fiction, The Guts won’t do you wrong.

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