Book review: The Guts, by Roddy Doyle

by Michael Larsen / 05 September, 2013
The Commitments’ Jimmy Rabbitte returns 25 years on.
Roddy Doyle: deft. Photo/Mark Nixon

So Roddy Doyle resurrects the manager from The Commitments, Jimmy Rabbitte, for a new generation and does a sterling job. The Guts isn’t a sequel as such; although some of the names from Doyle’s phenomenally successful 1988 first novel reappear, you won’t be at a disadvantage if you haven’t read it (or seen the film). But if you’ve read any other Doyle, whether comic novels like The Snapper and The Van or grim and gritty tales such as the Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha and The Woman Who Walked into Doors, you’ll know what to expect. The Guts is a kind of blend of both signature styles.

Hilarious though the novel is, the fact Jimmy, now 47, has just been diagnosed with bowel cancer lends pathos to the proceedings. Of course, there’s room for much sick humour – Jimmy’s purple velour “cancer pants” are priceless – but the illness allows Doyle to delve deep into the territory of family. Jimmy, like any middle-aged father of four, struggles to communicate with his kids at the best of times. Now, at the worst of times, what does he do? He asks his wife, “When’s best to tell the kids?” “Before The X Factor,” comes back the reply.

The Guts is firmly rooted in the here and now. Its first line – “D’yeh do the Facebook thing?” – makes it
clear we’re deep in 2013. Indeed, Doyle incorporates email, iPads and even texting effortlessly and to great effect, handling them with the deftness of his dialogue.

The tell-it-how-you-hear-it style puts you in the thick of Dublin, so to speak, with all its effing and blinding, but without the need for translation that, say, Irvine Welsh’s Scottish dialects sometimes require. Doyle captures not just the words but also the cadences and colloquialisms so beautifully that a novel with a love of music at its heart has its own musicality.

And a rhythm of its own, too. The dialogue is so quick-fire he moves you through the 360 pages rapidly, allowing you to turn a blind eye to the occasional overreach of plot and slip-up in structure (the uninterrupted final section, although bringing things to a delightful conclusion, stands out in too stark a contrast to the bite-sized chunks that precede it).

Moving with Jimmy as he works through all his challenges – trying to beat the cancer, looking for the one big musical idea that will launch his nostalgia/punk website into the stratosphere, understanding his kids, reuniting with his long-lost brother and learning to play the trumpet – is a ride of utter delight, a heady combination of hilarity and empathy.

Jimmy is such a likeable and authentic character you even forgive him a couple of very poor decisions, including one or two with the gorgeous Imelda, she of Commitments fame. He can be an eejit, but mostly, as he keeps trying to tell himself, he is, like this brilliant novel, just grand.

The Guts, by Roddy Doyle (Jonathan Cape, $37.99).
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature
76836 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature

by Sally Blundell

A world in which humans live in harmony with nature is still possible, says veteran environmental campaigner Jane Goodall.

Read more
Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights (and lowlights) so far
76887 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights…

by David Larsen

The New Zealand International Film Festival is back for another year and Metro's David Larsen is in his happy place.

Read more
Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness
76845 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Books

Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness

by Danyl McLauchlan

Richard Dawkins’ profound admiration for himself comes through loud and clear – with footnotes.

Read more
As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of herd stupidity, not immunity?
75047 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Health

As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of …

by Sarah Lang

It’s astonishing just how many well-educated, presumably semi-intelligent New Zealanders subscribe to and try to spread this kind of nonsense.

Read more
The dreaded autocorrect disaster
76840 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The dreaded autocorrect disaster

by Joanne Black

Autocorrect may hide your texting and typing bloopers, but it won’t stop your blushes.

Read more
Retailers say competition laws block charge on plastic bags
76850 2017-07-24 16:14:42Z Environment

Retailers say competition laws block charge on pla…

by RNZ

1.5 billion plastic bags are used here each year and on average it takes just 12 minutes before a bag enters the waste stream.

Read more
Crossword 1037 answers and explanations
6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Taranaki
76777 2017-07-24 08:32:07Z Travel

6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Ta…

by Venture Taranaki

How to holiday like a local in the Naki.

Read more