Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. It takes me back to 1991, that'd be the year The Commitments came out with that killer soundtrack. It's the tale of Jimmy Rabbitte, the young Irishman who had this crazy notion to put together an American soul band in, of all places, Dublin. The movie was based on a book by novelist Roddy Doyle.
Roddy Doyle: It became a bit of a burden after awhile, you know. You couldn't go anywhere without some twit singing "Mustang Sally." It is almost true to say I forgot I wrote it.
Werman: But Doyle did decide to revisit the life of Jimmy Rabbitte. Jimmy is back in Doyle's latest book The Guts. It follows Jimmy as he navigates the twin disasters of colon cancer and Ireland's ongoing economic crisis.
Doyle: When the Irish economy collapsed, there was a lot of, if such a thing is possible, nostalgic analysis of what was going on. People harken back to the '80's and a lot of '80's music being played on radio, accompanied by economists explaining what the word "recession" meant. I found it a bit offensive really. Funny at first, but a bit offensive.
Doyle: Perhaps the radio producers and the economists had lived their glory days in the 1980's, but I was a teacher in a working class area of Dublin in the 1980's and there were nobody's glory days there. It was rough. There was a lot of poverty and an unemployment rate that's almost science fictional. It all got on my nerves, I've got to say. That's what drove me into the book really. I created those Rabbitte characters in the 1980's and I thought, "Well I'll add a quarter century to their lives and see how they're getting on in this new one."
Werman: It's a very serious analysis that you give, but it is what happened. I'm just wondering, in that period where the celtic tiger was really muscular - who was actually benefitting from that?
Doyle: I think everyone to a degree. But when you write about working class people, you're never far from the fridge. I've written about people who don't know if there's going to be anything in the fridge at the end of the week. For most people that wasn't an issue. So that anxiety, that fear was gone or seemed to be gone.
Werman: But today that fear is back, it sounds like.
Doyle: It is, yeah.
Werman: How about our fictional Jimmy Rabbitte? How did he fare during the celtic tiger boom years?
Doyle: He did fine. He was a car salesman at first. He didn't like the job at all but he did okay. He could pay the mortgage. But then, kind of aided and abetted, nudged on by his wife, he formed this online music company. That, I think, is where celtic tiger Jimmy comes in in a good sense. He becomes an entrepreneur. He uses his enthusiasm, music. His love becomes his income, it becomes his living. I think that would've been a great thing about the celtic tiger as well.
When things started going wrong with the economy, there was an immediate condemnation of everything and everybody. Flaying of our backs, "What terrible people we are, we wasted it all, we wasted it all." But no, an awful lot of people opened these enterprises and it was just something they thought they'd like to do. Because there was that bit of extra cash, people thought, "Well, I'd like to buy that," or "I'd like to eat that," so it was great, in actual fact. Jimmy would've been a beneficiary of this.
Curiously, people have their own laptops because they had extra money. They wonder "Well, what happened to those screaming yahoos, that band from 1976?" and they look them up and there's Jimmy offering the two singles that they released online. They have the bit of extra money, so they buy it. But of course one of the first things to go when the extra money is gone is that type of buying.
Werman: That's a real kind of luxury, to go nostalgia digging.
Doyle: Yes. So the anxiety arrives on Jimmy's doorstep.
Werman: Jimmy also, as I said, has colon cancer in this novel and that's happening against the backdrop of this economic recession. Jimmy's dad is very solicitous of his son and his son's health it seems. He wants to make sure he's eating right, but Jimmy doesn't want to hear too much about his own illness. Tell us about their relationship and how it's grown over the years.
Doyle: It's a great relationship, really. It might be the first Irish novel ever to have a happy, functional family, because you're supposed to be miserable aren't you? You're supposed to carry all of this anger and misery, and I don't really.
Werman: Was that your family? Did you have a happy family?
Doyle: Generally, yes, and certainly very functional. A good family.
Werman: And a good relationship with your own father?
Doyle: Yes. Of course, I've gone through all of the phases. When I was a teenager, I thought he was the biggest clown of Ireland, an absolute eejit. Then in my 20's, I began to -
Werman: Wait, you said "absolute eejit"? Because that comes up a lot in the book. E-E-J-I-T, I think is how you spell it. That would be "idiot" for our American listeners.
Doyle: Yes. In Ireland we tend to not bother with the extra syllable if at all possible. Yes, but over the years now we've become good friends in a way, as well as with my mother actually. Jimmy is a bit like that, I suppose. He's very lucky insofar as he can chat with his father and his father loves chatting to him.
I've never had cancer myself so it's not autobiographical but I would imagine having received a diagnosis, he just does not want to go into his own house with that news, with that word. He doesn't want to plonk it on the kitchen table and tell his wife or his young children - they're younger than my own children, for example - he just doesn't want to do that. So his father is the first person he tells.
Werman: As you said, Jimmy is still into music. He's getting some traction with this website, celticpunk.com. Where does this connection to music come from for you? It often plays a role in your stories.
Doyle: I'm a firm believer that music is almost like a channel or a thread right the way back to childhood. I think this is a great thing. I was at an event in Washington and a reader asked me, "Isn't Jimmy a bit immature?" and I said that I really think maturity is overrated. Why can't there be an element of that enthusiasm, why wouldn't that be a good thing? Listening to music - it's a constant reminder of what we were like, because we still are that person.
I think it's almost a Victorian thing that childhood is one thing, a preparation for adulthood, and then you shut that door and become an adult. I really like that continuity. When I see my children, and three of them are huge music enthusiasts, that makes me personally very happy. If I've nudged them in that direction, that's a terrific thing.
Werman: Roddy Doyle is the author of The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van among other novels, as well as the just released fourth part of those stories, The Guts. Roddy, thanks very much for coming in. Great to meet you.
Doyle: Thank you.