Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry

A Star Called Henry

by Roddy Doyle

Viking, $24.95 hard

The newest novel from the author of the loudly praised Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is a dark and beautiful narrative that administers the Irish oral tradition to a startling and wonderful new cast of characters, many of whom you already know from history and legend alike. Henry Smart curses King George VII in the street, and he stands alongside Michael Collins in dark pubs planning the Irish Rebellion, but in the end he's no one, a nameless wraith who had as much to do with guiding the tumultuous political history of Ireland as anyone who claimed the credit.

Henry Smart becomes over time one of the most respected and feared soldiers for the blossoming IRA in the war for Irish independence, and the road to that distinction is bloody and harsh indeed. From the 1916 Easter Rising through his incarceration a few short years later, Henry's battles follow the course of the Irish rebellion, a life lived many times over while the protagonist is still in his teen years. It's not nearly so clear-cut as to say that Henry Smart's life is one spent in the pursuit of freedom for Ireland. And neither can Henry's eventual turning away from the IRA be seen as a refutation of the philosophies or tactics employed in the ongoing fight for Irish independence, fueled as it is by duties to self over country. This preservationist instinct corresponds perfectly to the self-sustaining motivations that guide the course of his entire existence. In that sense, as can be said of mythological figures from Perseus to Rob Roy, Henry Smart is indeed a hero.

A Star Called Henry is appropriately epic in the telling if not in its relatively brief chronological span. Henry Smart is a dread savior, a vomitous angel, a dangerous and lovable kid whose actions bring consequences he cannot and does not truly fathom. The book is full of shocking scenes (which is how they read, like visual sequences set to film), but none so shocking as the realization at book's end of how short a time has lapsed throughout the story. Bawdy, violent, crude, even disgusting, A Star Called Henry is a potent and compelling piece of narrative, a rags-to-infamy story that can stack up word for weighty word against the brightest of Ireland's storytellers.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Christopher Hess
Phases & Stages
Rob Halverson
Second Whirled (Record Review)

Feb. 4, 2005

Phases and Stages
Stratford 4
Love and Distortion (Record Review)

March 14, 2003


Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle