The Barrytown Trilogy – Roddy Doyle (1987)

Wanting to join with Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2021 project (which also nicely aligns with my Focus-on-the-TBR project as well), I happened to come across this, the first in what’s called “The Barrytown Trilogy” by Irish writer Roddy Doyle. (The other two titles are “The Snapper” (1990) and “The Van” (1991).)

As described by the publisher’s blurb: Roddy Doyle’s winning trio of comic novels depicting the daily life and times of the Rabbitte family in working-class Dublin… 

“The Commitments” is the first one in the list. And you know: I loved it. I think it was a reread (but only one that happened years ago pre-blog) but I know I loved the 1991 movie and its accompanying soundtrack. (I even dug up the soundtrack to remind myself of the group’s music. SO good.) 

The plot features a small and scrappy group of young teenaged boys growing up in lower-class Dublin who join together to form a band focused on bringing soul music back to the city. They are led by Joey “The Lips” Fagan, who may (or may not) have a professional music background with Otis Redding and co., and who calls everyone his “brothers and sisters”. Regardless of his true experience, Fagan is the glue on the band (although not without some attitude from his younger charges). 

And basically, this novel just tracks the life history of the young musicians. It’s written in 100 percent dialect and is heavily dependent upon a strongly-Irish accent delivering music lyrics but once I got into the read, the dialect ceased to be an impediment. I could just “hear” the boys as they bonded together (or not) working on their music and this was a great summary of the 1980s’ music scene for these kids. 

Special note must go to three girls who are the back-up singers: they are hilarious and have the patience of saints to put up with these lads. 

A very fast and enjoyable read.

Next: “The Snapper”, book two in the Doyle’s trilogy and a narrative arc that continues with some of the characters who starred in the first book. In the first volume, one of the girls (Sharon although her stage name is different) becomes pregnant and refuses to give up who the father is. Seeing as the story is set in Dublin, there is a big to-do about Sharon being young and unmarried/unattached and this volume tracks how the unintended pregnancy impacts her life and that of her family (especially her father, her “da”).

It’s a gritty and really-well-done close look at a Catholic family just trying to do their best with the situation, and although this volume is not quite as packed with such a heavy dialect as the first title, it’s still very Irish in how it sounds. I just loved getting a different perspective of some of the characters mentioned in the first volume and couldn’t put this book down.

And then, since I couldn’t stop reading this, I moved on to the final volume: “The Van”. I had no idea what this narrative plot would follow and learned that it’s an (even) closer look at Sharon’s Da and how, even though it might not turn out that great, the poor guy really does his best at being a good man for his family and for his friends.

“The Van” was also really funny in places and reminded me in some ways of Hardy’s “Under the Greenwood Tree” (review here) which also follows a middle-aging man and his friends as they live their lives and have their adventures. (It also made me crave some English chips since there is a lot involved with a local chip shop.) Honestly, I laughed out loud at this volume… Just loved it.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting the month!

8 thoughts on “The Barrytown Trilogy – Roddy Doyle (1987)

  1. What a fabulous read for #ReadingIrelandmonth21, I have only read Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle. This trilogy sounds so vibrant, packed with memorable characters.

  2. Pingback: Reading Ireland Month Week 2 Round-Up!

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