BULLFIGHTING by RODDY DOYLE

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BULLFIGHTING by RODDY DOYLE

A recent profile of the astonishingly productive British military historian Max Hasting – a few thousand words a day, almost every day it seems – must have come as depressing reading for anyone struggling for years over their first novel, or even just a volume of poetry.

If so, then there is more bad news in that Ireland's 53-year old Booker Prize-winning Roddy Doyle has yet another book on the market, this compilation of short pieces previously published in various places such as the New Yorker, Guardian and short story collections.

With 10 novels (among them The Commitments and The Van which became successful films), a handful of plays, five children's books, screenplays and non-fiction under his belt, Doyle shows few sings of slowing the cracking pace he has set for himself.

Among his rules for writers is “do feel anxiety – it's the job” which is perhaps cold comfort. And this collection is full of anxieties as men, mostly speaking through internal monologues, confront getting over a heart-attack (Recuperation where the narrator walks, literally, through his world reminiscing about grown-up kids and his life), damage from a childhood incident which is still ever-present (Teaching), and the aftermath of that crushing statement which ends something but begins another in Ash: “We'll still be friends”.

These 13 stories come with a light but firm touch: Doyle sketches in characters and incidents, leaves ample space around them for the reader to fill, and allows his people to have human failings betrayed in an offhand comment or fleeting thought. He also imbues these mid-life men with a dignity and humour as they look blankly at a world which has most often betrayed dreams.

There is however the tenderness and sentimentality here – a man watching his wife sleeping, the love and drama of children with their pets – which rounds out people, leavens their imperfections and makes us see something of ourselves or friends in these snapshots.

That Doyle makes such deft and insightful pieces (under a telling title) so spare yet dense, sad and funny within the same few sentences is uplifting – unless you happen to be still struggling with that first novel or poetry collection.  

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