This novel is part two of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy, which starts off with The Commitments and closes with The Van. In this novel, we meet the Rabbitte family half a generation earlier from where we started in the previous novel. So to call it a sequel is right and not right and to call it a prequel is right and not right. My understanding is that the third book moves backward in this same fashion.
If you liked The Commitments I am certain you’re going to like this one. It’s a little more sad, a little brutal, still really funny, less fun, more heartfelt, and a richer narrative. The novel is still primarily dialogue, but there’s much longer sections of narration. The language is pretty much the same, this one is about 50 pages or so longer. I read this one for 15 minutes last night, and then read the remaining 180 pages in one sitting just this evening. It’s a fast book to be sure.
Here’s how it goes. Jimmy Rabbitte’s older sister Sharon figures out she’s pregnant and opens the novel by telling her parents. He mom is stoic and subdued and her dad is a little too calm and supportive (this will change). She’s 20, she works at the grocery store, and for reasons that become clear throughout the novel, she doesn’t really feel like talking about the father of the child. (I.E. the “Snapper” in question). For also obvious reasons, she’s worried about her standing in the town. To say Ireland is a Catholic partly gets at the issue, but to say Barrytown in Dublin is a raging pit of gossip and derision and judgment (for comic and not so comic effect) is a bit more on the nose.
“–Sharon Rabbitte’s pregnant, did yeh hear?
–Your on, Sharon Rabbitte’s up the pole.
–Sharon Rabbitte’s havin’ a baby.
–I don’t believe yeh!
–Jesus! Are yeh serious?
–Who’s she havin’ it for?
–I don’t know.
–She won’t say.
–She doesn’t know.
–She can’t remember.
–Oh God, poor Sharon.
–I don’t believe her.
–The stupid bitch.
–She had tha’ comin’.
–Serves her righ’.”
“There was a bunch of kids, boys Darren’s age, sitting on the wall at the bus-stop when Sharon got off. They all stared at her as she went past them. When she’d gone about three gates one of them shouted.
–How’s Mister Burgess?
She didn’t turn or stop.
–Yeh ride yeh.
She kept walking.
They were only kids.
Still, she was shaking and kind of upset when she got home and upstairs. She didn’t really know why really. Men and boys had been shouting things after her since she was thirteen and fourteen. She’d never liked it much, especially when she was very young, but she’d looked on it as a sort of stupid compliment.
Tonight was different though. Being called a ride wasn’t any sort of a compliment anymore.”
And to put it succinctly:
“So that was what she was fighting against; Barrytown’s sense of humour.”
This isn’t the kind of novel where someone has to go it alone. It’s not easy for Sharon and it gets comically difficult at times, but her family is there for her in a real way throughout. There are struggles, but no abandonment. It’s a kind of tribute to the idea that regardless of your “values” on abstract issues, when reality hits, you stick around.