‘Creative Ireland’ is the name of the Irish government’s new public-relations campaign to stimulate foreign investment and tourism by promoting global awareness of the country’s national culture. How timely it is that Roddy Doyle, its veritable personification and Ireland’s most widely acclaimed popular novelist, should now be publishing his twelfth novel. Smile, unlike the pop music jollity of The Commitments, his first big hit, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, his Booker Prize winner, is an expression of the traditional aesthetic gloom that has made Irish culture such a fertile inspiration of fiction.
Most of Doyle’s characters still meet each other in pubs and speak Dublin’s Northside vernacular, which his London publisher calls ‘razor-sharp dialogue’. It ranges from the succinct to the staccato, with a vocabulary founded principally on the words fuck, fuckin’ and fuck off, with eejit thrown in occasionally.
The narrator is a 54-year-old Dubliner called Victor Forde – an ironic misnomer, for his whole life story is about defeat. Every evening, Victor goes to a pub where, in the company of other middle-aged lads, he reminisces about his life. His most painfully disformative experience occurred at St Martin’s