December 2014

Roddy Doyle: A Star Called Henry
Reviewed by Jim Mowatt, Unite Director of Education

A Star Called HenryAsked often to suggest a “good book” to introduce someone (usually a young person) to politics, and the natural urge is to recommend E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

Brilliant as it is, it is a wee bit heavy biscuits for those brand new to politics. So, recently I’ve been recommending NOVELS not TEXT BOOKS for the inquisitive learner. Of these the stand-out read is Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry. And here are my reasons.

It is a belting read. A roller coaster of a journey of a baby to young adulthood in the first quarter of the 20th Century.  It is vivid, haunting, funny and mercilessly meticulous in the accounts of poverty and its embarrassments. North Dublin is infused with real politics, in real time with real people. And Henry Smart meets James Connelly and Michael Collins.
And it’s utterly believable. The reader is introduced to the convoluted landscape of British politics – with the island of Ireland being an integral part of Great Britain – confronted by the confusions, contradictions and (the often) craziness of Republican politics in pre-revolutionary Ireland. Raw, heart rending and uplifting accounts of real events pepper the story of Henry Smart.

Doyle is a master craftsman of storytelling; he has a fabulous pedigree – including, most popularly, his “The Commitments”, “The Snapper” and “The Van” – (his Barrytown trilogy). Doyle can tell a story - and what a historical period in which to set this first instalment (*) of The Last Roundup series.
Grim and romantic, cruel and generous, full-blooded and intimate, you are transported into a Dublin and Ireland in political turmoil, intrigue and energy. Doyle compels you as the reader into having to understand the power struggles, the deceits and commitment of the political processes of a whole country about to tear itself apart.

The dialogue is fierce and funny; the characters riveting and the politics never in your face and never getting in the road of a great rollicking story. A real page turner.

This is a great student introduction to politics – a springboard for any student new to politics to follow-up, research and debate knowingly.

“A Star Called Henry” is a coping stone in the making of modern Ireland.

A Star Called Henry was published in 1999 and is volume 1 of The Last Roundup series. The second installment was published in 2004 and is called Oh, Play That Thing. It was followed by The Dead Republic in 2010.

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