The Booker Prize–winner and the Irish working-class’s Marcel Proust (A Star Called Henry, 1999, etc.) offers a nonfiction account of his parents’ reminiscences “about the people they were before they were my parents,” continuing through WWII and into their senior years.
And what a book it might have been. But fans will search in vain through this rambling collection of anecdotal recollections for Doyle’s hilariously unsentimental portraits of street-corner romantics, dizzy dreamers, and righteous fools. Instead of crafting a dual biography using his novelist’s talent for wry observation and revealing detail, Doyle lets his parents talk—and talk and talk—about themselves in long, discursive passages unrelieved by description or analysis, supplemented by black-and-white photos and occasional annotations. Granted, Roderick “Rory” Doyle, a newspaper compositor and later a teacher of the printer’s trade, and Ita Bolger, secretary in a medical school’s pathology department, have their son’s gift for a good story. Their memories of early hardships, childhood chums, dark houses overflowing with relatives, the purchases they made with the savings from their first jobs (a briar pipe, lavender soap), and their courtship (he was a little drunk during their first dance; she grew to admire him as they took long walks around Dublin) are likable and sympathetic, and there will be no dry eyes after reading that Ita mourns her son Anthony (who died the day after he was born) by refusing ever again to pray to the saint she named him for. Though Doyle says, in a preface, that he left out many of the stories about him and his siblings, what’s missing from this family album are the deeper glimpses into character that might be found in those less comforting, ignoble incidents that a loving son may not have wanted to put into print.
A sweet, inoffensive, rambling oral history of a writer’s respectable, hardworking, warmly dignified parents. Marriage never sounded quite so good.