The Guts by Roddy Doyle
Glance through Roddy Doyle’s back catalogue and you’ll see he’s an author who can get a lot out of his characters. Including his latest, The Guts, he’s published ten novels, of which the Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the only one that isn’t part of a series. Alcoholic battered wife Paula Spencer has appeared in two books and freewheeling chancer Henry Smart has had a trilogy. The Guts offers readers their fourth glimpse into the lives of the Rabbitte family, specifically now middle-aged Jimmy Jr., former founder and manager of the eponymous soul band in Doyle’s debut The Commitments.
Now a father of four with a loving wife and occasional dogs, Jimmy’s still in the music business, but he mostly specialises in the nostalgia industry: finding other men of a certain age who still have one foot in the past and are willing to pay him to track down obscure vinyl. It’s not a huge leap to draw parallels between author and subject here, both wringing some extra mileage out of their glory days, but they’re no less likeable or successful for that.
The book opens in the pub (where else?) with Jimmys Sr. and Jr. talking about nothing much. It’s classic Doyle: dialogue-heavy prose that helps draw out his vivid characters, lots of swearing and good jokes. When Jimmy Jr. drops the news of his bowel cancer into the conversation, announcing that he’ll lose 80% of his intestines in the treatment, his dad’s reaction is sad, funny, eloquent and true at the same time: “For f*** sake.”
The rest of the book follows Jimmy through surgery and chemotherapy in recession-hit Dublin. While staying true to the earlier books, with a few old faces making notable appearances, The Guts is committed to its contemporary setting. Sometimes this is effective – like the picture of the economy’s toll on real people that emerges when Jimmy’s neighbours go bankrupt and lose their house. Other details seem to be dropped in arbitrarily:
‘Whitney Houston’s after dyin’.’”
Jimmy’s journey to eventual recovery is bookended by the great opening scene and extended section with Jimmy and his mates – all of them “oul’ lads” – at the 2012 Electric Picnic festival. It would make a brilliant standalone story, but as it stands it’s a hugely satisfying, well-crafted ending to a plot that otherwise has a tendency to wander.
The Guts is published by Jonathan Cape at the hardback price of £12.99, for further information visit here.