Roddy Returns

From music-maker to middle age

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Think back to 1991, when a (fictional) ragtag group of Irish soul musicians stormed the music scene in the profane but endearing film The Commitments

The movie was based on a novel by Roddy Doyle; both center around Jimmy Rabbitte, a working-class Dubliner with a passion for soul music. He sets his sights on forming the greatest soul band to ever play, and gathers together a motley (and very white) crew whose musical brilliance is matched by their complete dysfunction off-stage.

Fast forward 20-some years. Jimmy Rabbitte’s a middle-aged music promoter, reviving old bands through his website, kelticpunk.com, but barely scraping by. He’s an average bloke, trying to pay his bills, raise his kids and come to terms with his own mortality. Text messaging is a struggle for him, as is technology in general.

All signs point to midlife crisis, complete with stalled career and an extramarital affair. Plus, Jimmy has bowel cancer, and he’s terrified.  Hilarious, right?  Yet Doyle pulls it off, using trademark running dialogue and sly musical references to craft a riotous, laugh-out-loud treat. Be warned, though, there are enough obscenities to peel paint, so this book is not for the easily offended. 

Near the end of the book, Jimmy and some lads, including his estranged brother Les and former Commitments guitarist Liam “Outspan” Foster, take in an outdoor music festival (think Irish Woodstock). Jimmy’s trying to prove he’s still vital and relevant, all the while searching for a bathroom and cheering on his son Marvin, in disguise as a Bulgarian soul singer. It’s zany, it’s joyful, and it’s fun to read.

Still, amid the jokes and pratfalls lies a tender heart that shows up in many of Doyle’s books, such as Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, for which he won a Booker Prize. Despite Jimmy’s transgressions, his relationship with his understanding wife Aoife seems realistic and loving. He genuinely cares about his kids, his father and his friends. In turn, readers care about Jimmy, and his guts.

Doyle has written several novels about Jimmy Rabbitte over the years. It’s not necessary to read them in sequence, but should you choose to do so, the first three have been collected in the anthology The Barrytown Trilogy, available at your library.

Christine Perkins is Executive Director of the Whatcom County Library System. Perkins reviews fiction for Library Journal and loves discussing books each month with friends in two local book clubs.

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