cover image The Dead Republic

The Dead Republic

Roddy Doyle, . . Viking, $26.95 (329pp) ISBN 978-0-670-02177-2

Doyle digs into the modern history of Ireland in the concluding volume to the life story of Henry Smart, a teenage Sinn Fein triggerman first encountered in A Star Called Henry . Here, an aging Henry must preserve his own legend, which is taken away from him first for a film, and then by the IRA. In the mid-1940s, film director John Ford plans to make a movie based on Henry’s life, but Henry eventually realizes the film that Ford has planned will reduce his story to sentimental pap. Upon returning to Ireland with Ford, Henry plans on killing the director, but his callousness has faded, and he drifts into the Dublin suburbs, where he meets a respectable widow who may be his long-disappeared wife. Henry ages in obscurity until the ’70s, when the IRA uses a distorted version of Henry’s story as a PR ploy; as the IRA man who runs Henry explains, “we hold the copyright” to the Irish story. Doyle is a stellar storyteller, though not a faultless one—characters tend to editorialize at the drop of a hat; yet Doyle exhibits a peerless ear for cynicism as he grapples with the violence and farce of Irish history. (May)