The Guts by Roddy Doyle
For anyone who has read the book, or seen the movie, of The Commitments and enjoyed either, this is the book for you. The Guts is Jimmy Rabbitte’s story.
Jimmy has progressed from being the former manager of a failed Dublin soul band to becoming a settled father of 4 children, Marvin, Jimmy Junior, Mahalia and Brian, though he still works in the music industry… kind of.
But Jimmy has a serious problem. Well, to be honest, he has more than one serious problem but one stands out from all the rest. Jimmy has been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Hence the title of this charming and light-hearted novel.
The Guts is a story about a regular Dublin man with a fairly regular existence, who is condemned to suffer through what is, sadly, now a fairly regular disease. It’s a warmhearted tale told very well. Gone is the excitement that Jimmy felt as he built The Commitments, but the absence has not meant that he has embraced a boring and sedentary life. Jimmy Rabbitte still dreams.
The reader is taken on a comical ride through the daily life of the Rabbitte family. We learn of Marvin and his pretence at being a member of a very popular ‘Bulgarian’ rock band. We see the awkwardness as Jimmy reconnects with his estranged brother, Les. We meet Outspan, who was a guitarist in The Commitments. The still sexy Imelda Quirk makes her mark also, in Jimmy’s life, with some brief but saucy appearances. And, of course, we have the pleasure of the company of Jimmy Senior, the wise-cracking, scene-stealing true blue Dub who will always raise a smile.
This is a great book. It doesn’t engage in great sentimentality or angst. It sets out the cancerous problem and then demonstrates how a regular Irish family cope with such a traumatic event. Don’t get me wrong, it is sad in places. A father telling his young children that he has a life-threatening illness is going to be sad. Yet Roddy Doyle chooses not to dwell on the pain and instead keeps the story flowing at an ofttimes frantic pace.
The Guts is all about the dialogue, as most of Doyle’s books appear to be. We Irish are a loquacious lot and usually enjoy a good natter. There are large passages of conversation in The Guts which, whilst accurately capturing the manner in which working class Dubs converse, also provide many laughs. There is no doubt that such proletariat exchanges can be very tongue-in-cheek. The language employed is crude at times, but then again that’s life, and Roddy Doyle has presented it perfectly.
The scenery depictions are not in-depth, but they don’t need to be. There are, however, some vivid and amusing images created when Jimmy, Les, Outspan and Des (another out-of-sorts friend) go to a major musical festival to watch Marvin’s ‘Bulgarian’ band whilst Jimmy is on call to deal with the unusual and temperamental groups that he has decided to manage. It makes for wonderful entertainment.
I will say that there are aspects of Jimmy’s behaviour that I found appalling. He does inappropriate things that seem to be glossed over by the author in typical Doyle fashion. Yet, that also is life. None of us are angels the entire time. Still, I felt a tad cheated by Jimmy, and occasionally disappointed. He has retained his selfish tendencies, even if they are somewhat diluted. Perhaps my reaction is a compliment to Roddy Doyle in that he can exact such responses from his readers. You’ll see what I mean.
This novel is the kind of book that will likely be enjoyed more by Irish people due to the national references scattered throughout. We Irish also immediately recognize the character types portrayed in the story. But if you are not Irish, and you have read and enjoyed previous novels by Roddy Doyle, then I believe that you will love this one, if only for the poignancy of meeting again with those from the greatest soul band never to have made it in Dublin. I just feel bad for Aoife.
It is my considered opinion that, due to the extensive dialogue, The Guts will make a fine play. Expect a Jimmy Rabbitte to tread the boards in the not-too-distant future.
For anyone who has suffered from cancer, or has had a loved one suffer in this way, then The Guts should help you smile a little. Sometimes that’s about the best we can hope for.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Recommended for those who like music, Dublin, wise-cracks and roiding…