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The Dead Republic

The Dead Republic - Roddy Doyle I loved the first book, A Star Called Henry, I've missed the second book in the trilogy Oh, Play That Thing and now just completed the final volume. I was fairly gripped, while reading it, Doyle's voice is always engaging with his ear for dialogue and his humour. In this book Henry Smart, the mythic hero slowly turns to frail old man, part of Ireland's history as a participant in the Easter Rising, but with shady secrets that could undermine the glory.

The story of the iconic status of the ageing Henry and how this is used, denied and appropriated by various groups is a story of how Ireland battled over its past and the narratives of its past, in the close of the twentieth century as the Peace Process was negotiated. The book starts with Henry about to have a film made of his life by John Ford and he is brought back to Ireland to provide essential background. Eventually, however, he realises that his story is not being told at all, but rather a prettified story of rural Ireland, with the violence, cruelties, sex and moral ambiguities ironed out. Henry is enraged to the point of violence but it turns out that this sanitising of the struggle is actually the continuance of the struggle by other means. Wealthy, sentimental Americans will pour money into the defence of this rural idyll from the invaders.

Possibly the symbolism and cleverness of this book took away a little of its lifeforce and credibility as story. There was always something larger-than-life and mythic about Henry but the coincidence of how he found his wife again who after a lifetime away from him was no longer quite his wife did not ring right or satisfy (perhaps I am too much of a romantic) it was frustrating though to have the heroic Miss O'Shea back, yet somehow not have her, but perhaps that's what life can be like over many decades.