Irish Book Review: The Guts by Roddy Doyle

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The new novel by Roddy Doyle, The Guts, has just been released in the US, and it’s a treat comparable to hitting the town for Paddy’s Day drinks — but without the sore head in the morning!

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

One of the best antidotes to homesickness for the recently (or not-so-recently)  emigrated Irish person is a Roddy Doyle novel. Told almost entirely in dialogue, reading Doyle is like stepping into your local for a quick one (or at least into a local in Dublin) the sights and sounds of messy, noisy Dublin life surround you, and you can hear each voice distinctly. 

The Guts is Doyle’s latest, and features the return of the Jimmy Rabbit’s: Jr., who formed the infamous band The Commitments, and his irrepressible Da, Jimmy Sr., who took center stage in rest of the Barrytown Trilogy. Jimmy Jr. is in his late forties, married with a rake of kids, and has managed to successfully avoid the pitfalls of debt during the Celtic Tiger years. But, fate has caught up with the bold Jimmy, as he’s just been diagnosed with cancer.

Typically, this diagnosis is treated with the usual Irish black humor rather than mawkish sentimentality. Jimmy undergoes surgery and chemo with the support and humor of friends and family, having good days and bad, just like most people. There’s a sub-plot involving Jimmy’s brother Les, who walked out on the family 20 years earlier, and hasn’t been heard from since. Jimmy’s brush with mortality spurs him to track Les down, and the brothers’ slow, monosyllabic attempts at reconciliation is both humorous and very, very realistic.

I enjoyed the novel, although as I’m a similar age to Jimmy Jr., his musings about his life and missteps caused some musings of my own. All in all, The Guts is a fairly successful return to the anarchy and humorous atmosphere of Doyle’s early novels, and reminds those of us who have aged along with the characters that although we may feel bruised and bloodied by the years, we’re still standing, and life goes on in all its ridiculousness and inexpressible beauty.



Other recent Irish novels you might enjoy include:

Young Skins by Colin Barrett…

Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes…

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway…


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  1. Lorna’s avatar

    It sounds good 🙂

  2. Lorna’s avatar

    And Happy Paddy’s Day btw 🙂

    1. Rich Rennicks’s avatar

      Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you, too.

    2. Lois Farley Shuford’s avatar

      Glad to read this review. I just finished “A Star Called Henry,” and it exhausted me – but ’twas a good Roddy Doyle story none the less. Looking forward to reading this one now.
      Happy St. Pat’s!

      1. Rich Rennicks’s avatar

        It’s a long time since I read that one. Barely remember it. This is lighter, despite the cancer angle.

      2. bloggingfromthebog’s avatar

        I read “The Guts” about a month ago and really enjoyed it! Except for one chapter of the book where I became sort of lost, it was a great read, both funny and uplifting. Also, the benefit of having not only read the Trilogy but watched the movies, is that every line of Jimmy Sr.’s dialogue in “The Guts” came to me delivered by Colm Meaney! 🙂

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