I don’t know to what extent this is a universal experience, but to me the last hour of a road trip always feels super long. It doesn’t matter if I’ve driven 200 miles or 600 miles, that last hour just draaags. In the US, it feels like we’re in the metaphorical last hour of the COVID shutdowns. More than half of adults have gotten at least one vaccine dose (yay!), including me (YAY!), but it will probably be another couple of months before things really get back to normal, or whatever “normal” looks like post-pandemic. Given all of this, I’ve been struggling with feeling pretty blah — every day feels the same and I don’t feel that I have accomplished much, either on any given day or in the last year. I am very grateful to be only contending with blah-ness at this point (earlier parts of the pandemic had much bigger challenges), but still the blah feeling is there. To combat this, I’ve been combing through my TBR pile to find the slimmest volumes I can, so that I can think “well at least I finished a book today”. All of which brings us to Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments.
The Commitments was Roddy Doyle’s first novel, published in 1987. Like many people, I first became familiar with it by seeing the 1991 film inspired by the book. The Commitments tells the story of a group of young Dubliners who start a soul band, led by their manager Jimmy Rabbitte (who also appears in several of Doyle’s other novels) and an older, seasoned soul performer, Joey “The Lips” Fagan. We follow the group as Jimmy puts the band together, they acquire instruments, suits, and stage names, learn some classic soul songs (including “Knock on Wood”, “At the Dark End of the Street”, and “It’s a Man’s World”), and perform with varying levels of success.
As suggested by my lead in, The Commitments is short (about 150 pages), and it moves fast. Much of the book is taken up with the band’s rehearsals and performances, with the lyrics as they sing them captured in the text. I think the reading experience definitely benefits from having at least a basic familiarity with the songs included (I had to YouTube the one song I didn’t know because it was bugging me not being able to sing along in my head as I read), but the songs included are pretty popular ones so they’re likely to be familiar to most readers. There is a consistent sense of energy and excitement as the band’s members practice, argue, develop crushes on each other, and find their musical voices. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to be transported out of their own life for a few hours.
Note: The book does have a few uses of the n-word. This is not done in a pejorative way but there is a speech along the lines of “The Irish are the Blacks of Europe” (which is how it’s worded in the film) but the book uses the n-word instead of Black (at least in my edition, may have been changed in later editions). Just a heads up in case that’s a no-go for you as a reader.