The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle

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The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: The fictional biography of an Irishman and the struggle for his country's independendence.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Jonatan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224090094

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Henry Smart returns to Ireland after twenty nine years away, in glamorous company. The American film director John Ford plans to make a film about his life and Henry is the 'IRA consultant'. Also with him are the film's stars, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. I only learned after reading the novel that The Quiet Man is a real film and so was the description of it in the novel.

Henry left in 1922, after the Irish Civil War. It is now 1951. After his long exile, nothing is as he expected. He revisits an old home to find no trace that a house ever stood there. The project that has brought him back is not as he expected. The Quiet Man will be a hugely successful film for John Ford, but the life portrayed in it is not Henry Smart's life, and the portrait of Irish politics and everyday life in the film is not one he recognises. In his late 40s, he feels he is an old man already, alone with his memories of the wife and family he lost.

Ten years on, Henry has settled into work as a gardener and then a school caretaker in a village near Dublin. In one of my favourite parts of the story, he successfully tackles the routine use of corporal punishment in the school by threatening the teachers, reminding them of his past as an IRA man. (I suspect the author here is passing on some of his views and a fantasy through Henry). It turns out that his part in Irish history has not ended yet. As the years pass, the Provisional IRA turn to Henry as an old guard spokesman, and we get Henry's dry wit and opinions on Irish history through the late 20th century, up to the peace process and beyond.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, which I have been looking forward to for years. The Dead Republic is the final part of The Last Round-up Trilogy which started with A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing! about his adventures in Ireland and America, but it stands up very well in its own right – Henry's reminiscences would help new readers to the trilogy understand where he is coming from.

Doyle's writing is lively, witty, opinionated, sometimes controversial and colourful. There is a lot of bad language here (this should be no surprise to anyone who has read his other novels from The Commitments on), but I think it is appropriate to the characters. As well as the story of the struggle for Ireland, through the Troubles and beyond, Henry will live life to the full into very old age – there is also a love story featuring a very elderly couple, which I found very romantic and moving – I will not reveal more detail than that at this stage. This is a story about identity, of individuals and a country. Doyle constantly questions stereotypes about Ireland (such as those contained in the Hollywood films made by John Ford who was proud of his Irish ancestry) and challenges the reader's preconceptions.

Thank you very much to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Reading The Dead Republic has made me want to reread or read all the author's other work – you could start with Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which won the Booker Prize in 1993. Another wonderful fictional Irish character is the ex Garda (policeman) turned reluctant sort of PI, Jack Taylor, in Ken Bruen's The Guards and The Killing of the Tinkers.

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