I received a wonderful gift from my dear friend, Ms. Chicken Lips: an advance copy of Roddy Doyle's forthcoming short story collection, Bullfighting.
It is a book about men. Empty-nesters still in love with their wives, guys who are no longer 'lads' but aren’t yet ‘oul ones’, all of whom remember the Ireland before the economic boom of the Celtic Tiger and its more recent aftermath. It is a collection of mid-life crises, of decline, of having the scent of death grow stronger and come nearer than it ever has before.
Moreso, it is a book about men who, having reached the middle, find themselves uncertain of both their pasts and their futures and torn by questions: When did the fun end? Why did I lose interest? Why do I feel so useless? When did I change? Thankfully, these are not broken men. They know full well they are capable of answering these questions with actions and answers that will right their own ships. Still, the questions linger and hover and persist. Some find resolution in small places; in a conversation with a school-age girl awaiting her Mum at a bus stop. Others find solace in doing their jobs well or in the company of friends and family. Still, some remain at sea.
This is not the Doyle of The Commitments or Paddy Clarke, nor, thankfully, of the Henry Smart trilogy. This is an author in autumn, approaching winter. In the hands of another writer, Bullfighting could easily be a dreary affair but, as ever, Doyle is deft, sprinkling humor and pathos across the pages. Throughout his career, Doyle has always allowed us, entreated us to join him for the ride but now, as the ride gets closer to the station, what is important has changed and he asks us to stay strong and stay true to ourselves. In The End, it will all work out.