I can’t even remember the last time I read a Roddy Doyle book. I think after The Commitments came out as a movie, I read all of the Barrytown novels, but I certainly didn’t have more than a cursory memory of the characters. This didn’t really matter, as though a few of the same characters are featured in this new novel, they and their world have moved on.
Jimmy Rabbitte, former manager of The Commitments is now 47, married with four kids, and newly diagnosed with bowel cancer. The story opens with Jimmy meeting his father for a pint to break the news, and had me hooked within pages. Doyle writes conversations so beautifully – though Jimmy is there to break the bad news to his dad, they get sidetracked into a spiraling conversation about family, Facebook, Cougar Town, and getting older.
The story of Jimmy’s surgery and resultant chemo are interwoven with his fears for his children, financial concern, reconnecting with a long-lost brother and his love of music. I actually found it strange after finishing this book in essentially one sitting to realise how spare the plot actually was, with most of detail coming from daily minutiae and those nonsensical conversations we have with those we love. The finale of Jimmy attending a music festival with his friends is so close to being ridiculous, but instead was somehow both funny and incredibly moving. This is a beautifully written novel that would certainly benefit from a prior reading of Doyle’s Barrytown series, but stands alone as an absorbing and powerful story.