In light of the lucrative offers put his way over the years to pen a full sequel to his 1987 classic The Commitments, it’s so very Roddy Doyle that he instead gave one of the book’s major characters – manager Jimmy Rabbite – a rebirth in the pages of a newspaper run for and by immigrants to Ireland: Metro Eireann. All the shorts in The Deportees were, in fact, written for that publication, with the purpose of putting fresh perspective on Rabbite’s famous quote: ‘the Irish are the niggers of Europe’.
Twenty years on, spurred by the Celtic Tiger economic boom, the Irish are anything but the continent’s poor and the nation has fast become a haven for immigrants itself. In ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’, a father of four daughters suddenly has to face up to his prejudices when a ‘black fella’ is invited home for tea, and in ‘New Boy’, a young Nigerian experiences a bewildering first day at school. Best of all is the title story itself, in which Rabbite forms a new band for which ‘white Irish need not apply’.
Doyle evidently enjoyed every moment of the writing with the freedom, the sense of purpose, the opportunity to use his intuitive understanding of the Irish sense of humour to hack at a pertinent, divisive matter, and tear the stigma surrounding it to pieces in the process. When an author of Roddy Doyle’s calibre is having fun, you’ve got little option but to join him. (Malcolm Jack)