Roddy Doyle - The Dead Republic (3 stars)

Roddy Doyle - The Dead Republic

(Jonathan Cape)

The Dead Republic constitutes the final part of Roddy Doyle’s historical trilogy, The Last Roundup, which attempts to address a century of Irish history through the irascible figure of Henry Smart. When we meet Henry, his days of participation in the Easter Rising and Irish revolution are long gone. Instead, he’s a bitter, troubled, middle-aged man with a wooden leg and a job as ‘IRA advisor’ to legendary Hollywood director John Ford.

There’s some fun to be had in the friction between a curmudgeonly old Celt and Hollywood glamour, and Doyle uses the situation cleverly to examine questions of history and myth, looking at how we make up the stories that suit us to serve current political and cultural ends. Rather strangely, though, Doyle’s typically terse dialogue and characterisation lack his usual charm here, and he seems a little overawed by the presence of real historical figures in his tale, something that contemporaries such as James Ellroy or Glen David Gold handle much better. The action moves to smalltown Ireland where Henry, now a school caretaker, is caught up in a UVF bomb blast, inadvertently becoming an icon for the Provisional IRA in their fight for Northern Ireland.

Undeniably big in scope, there is something elusively disappointing about The Dead Republic. The feelings of nostalgia and melancholy that pervade the story eventually become wearing, and alongside some highly improbable plot devices, it makes for something of a frustrating read, one which doesn’t live up to the ambition of its author.

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