Monday, 10 February 2020

A Star Called Henry - Roddy Doyle

A Star Called Henry (1999) is the first part of The Last Roundup trilogy (the others being Oh Play That Thing and The Dead Republic). Our hero is Henry Smart, son of Henry Smart and brother of the titular Henry Smart. Henry Senior is the one-legged bouncer for a Dublin brothel at the turn of the century. Henry who is now a star was the first child of Henry Senior and his wife Melody Nash who, much-loved, died in infancy. Henry our hero was the next son to be born, in 1901. Henry Senior automatically gave the boy his own name, which caused a rift with Melody that never healed. By the time he's 8 our Henry is on the street. He is big and handsome, even as a child. His father literally resurfaces one time to save his son from certain death, then vanishes, leaving his signature weapon behind, his wooden leg.

Soon Henry is wielding the lethal leg, initially as a gang assassin. Then he survives the Easter Rising 1916, a gunman inside the Dublin Post Office, and becomes a righteous murderer, slaying spies and traitors to the Cause. He also trains up the next generation of lads for the IRA. He marries his lady-love, his former teacher Miss O'Shea and is enjoying family life when the Civil War erupts. Henry is no longer the coming lad. He is twenty and already a semi-mythical hero. The lads he trained have now outgrown him. They are worse than murderers, they are politicians. Henry makes one last appearance, and then escapes from Dublin using the same method favoured by his father - the underground water courses of the city.

A Star Called Henry is a magnificent achievement, all the characteristics of Doyle at his best, anchored to a story of great things. Doyle is too much of a humanist to allow Henry to kill without question. He rightly insists on there being consequences. The characters are astonishingly well drawn, from the amiable Latvian Jew Climanis to Piano Annie and her sad, one-armed husband. Best of all is Henry himself, a force of nature who cannot be constrained by rules, political beliefs, or really anything approaching civilisation. I've got my eye open for Oh Play That Thing and fingers crossed that Doyle manages to maintain this quality.

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