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A Star Called Henry (Last Roundup) Paperback – Deckle Edge, October 5, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood." The quote is from Frank McCourt's memoir of growing up impoverished in Limerick, circa World War II. But the sentiment might just as easily have come from the fictional lips of Henry Smart, the hero of Roddy Doyle's remarkable novel of Dublin in the teens, A Star Called Henry. The son of a one-legged hit man, young Henry is the third child born but the first to live through infancy. He is also the second Henry--the first having died, and become a star in the mind of his mother.
She held me but she looked up at her twinkling boy. Poor me beside her, pale and red-eyed, held together by rashes and sores. A stomach crying to be filled, bare feet aching like an old, old man's. Me, a shocking substitute for the little Henry who'd been too good for this world, the Henry God had wanted for himself. Poor me.
Soon, his father has all but abandoned the growing family, and at 9 Henry is on his own, running wild in the streets, thieving to stay alive. Depressing as all this sounds, Doyle has invested his narrator with such an appetite for life, and rendered him so resolutely unsorry for himself, that it seems almost insulting to pity him.

By the time he is 14, Henry has become a soldier in the new Irish Republican Army and in one long and harrowing chapter, we view the events of the Easter Rising of 1916 from his position in the thick of it. It's not a pretty sight by any means, as the populace is divided in its support and various factions within the Republican Army threaten to splinter and annihilate one another before the British even get there. When the shooting starts, Henry aims not at the British but at the store windows across the street. "I shot and killed all that I had been denied, all the commerce and snobbery that had been mocking me and other hundreds of thousands behind glass and locks, all the injustice, unfairness and shoes--while the lads took chunks out of the military." Though the uprising is eventually crushed and the leaders executed, Henry escapes to live--and fight--another day.

In previous books such as The Barrytown Trilogy, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, and The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Doyle has established himself as one of the premiere chroniclers of modern Irish life. With A Star Called Henry, he works his singular magic on the past. What's more, this is only volume one of the Last Roundup, so it looks like we haven't seen the last of Henry Smart. And that's a very good thing, indeed. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Doyle just gets better and better. After the touching hijinks of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and the poignantly powerful The Woman Who Walked into Walls, he has embarked on nothing less than a trilogy that aims to tell the story of 20th-century Ireland through the life of one man. He is Henry Smart, product of the unlikely union of a teenage buttonmaker and a one-legged murderer, and from the opening lines Doyle has given him an unforgettable voice, fiercely poetic and utterly aware: "She held me but she looked up at her twinkling boy. Poor me beside her, pale and red-eyed, held together by rashes and sores... a shocking substitute for the little Henry who'd been too good for this world, the Henry God had wanted for himself. Poor me." Henry grows into a handsome, healthy, fearless youth, ever mindful of the fearful poverty in which he makes his way, and of his father's dark reputation as a brothel bouncer, killer for hire and scourge of the Dublin police. Only natural, then, that the born rebel should join the fledgling IRA as a teenager and take part in its earliest battles. (The account of the 1916 Easter Rising, the occupation of the GPO and the bloodshed that follows must be one of the boldest and most vivid descriptions of civil strife in a familiar city ever penned.) After that, it's on to higher things for Henry: as a trainer of rebel soldiers, a young man high in the IRA councils, an avid lover of womenAbut also as one who begins to find the ideals of the revolution slipping away into arid opportunism and who, in the closing pages, turns his face toward America. This is history evoked on an intimate and yet earth-shaking scale, with a huge dash of the blarney, some mythical embellishments and a driving narrative that never falters. Names like Padraic Pearse, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, come and go, not like walk-ons in a pageant but as hideously fallible humans caught in the web of history. Maybe the Great American Novel remains to be written, but on the evidence of its first installment, this is the epic Irish one, created at a high pitch of eloquence. 12-city author tour. Penguin audio. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Last Roundup
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (October 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143034618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143034612
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roddy Doyle is the author of eight novels, a collection of stories, and Rory & Ita, a memoir of his parents. He won the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. He lives and works in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

I can't recall anyone that can write like he does.
Retina
All in all it's a very satisfying book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
harsil
It is a period in Irish history of which so much has been written.
Marc McElligott

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By John Barry on November 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A Star Called Henry is probably far more accurate in its portrayal of Ireland in the last years of British rule than many would realise. The activities of the members of Michael Collins' "Squad" were much like those performed by Henry Smart, who was, in the novel, on the periphery of possibly the most effective counter-intellegence agency in the world. Roddy Doyle's excellent novel captures the period as well as anything I have hitherto read on the subject. He captures the feeling of Dubliners towards the Easter Rising, before and after the executions, and the attitude of those beyond the Pale (English-controlled region around Dublin, where the phrase comes from) to the "jackeens". Henry's delay in leaving Ireland was, I believe, not as surprising as some seem to think. Henry had great loyalty towards Michael Collins, similar to his feelings towards James Connolly, a debt of honour, if you will, that kept him from abandoning him while that was unresolved. After his betrayal and the death of Collins, he was free to leave the country. These attributes are visible in the character of Henry Smart, and are a major influence on his actions. His various loyalties are strong and are probably the driving force of his life.
Before A Star Called Henry, I wasn't much a fan of Roddy Doyle the author, preferring the film versions of the Barrytown Trilogy, but I await with anticipation the remaining books in his latest Trilogy.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Cityview on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Roddy Doyle's great new book, "A Star Called Henry," is a stirring rush of a story set at the beginning of the century as the Irish Republic Army is taking shape. The novel, the first in a trilogy planned by Doyle, takes narrator Henry Smart from an infant in his boozy mother's arms to a damaged 20-year-old with a long career as an IRA assassin. Henry's addled mom spends her time looking up the stars, which represent all the children she has lost. His father is a dim-witted bouncer at a Dublin brothel who threatens (and kills) people with his wooden leg. Henry takes to the streets, developing keen survival skills and contempt for the forces that keep he and his family down. He hooks up with men who hate the British. Henry, while a bitter youth, is apolitical and is just looking for adventure and sustenance. Henry also has an odd, Bonnie and Clyde-style romance with Miss O'Shea, an older woman as eager to battle the Brits as any man. Doyle mixes in real historical figures (his depiction of famed rebel Michael Collins is wonderfully entertaining) and events into Henry's adventurous life. But, this is no romanticized tale of Ireland's fight for liberation. The book is filled with flawed leaders, inducing violence and putting Ireland's innocent a risk in the name of profit, as well as freedom. Henry grows up fast and his narration comes at a breakneck pace. In the beginning, Henry is a folk hero. He makes it clear he is a great warrior and lover, and quite possibly a genius. By the end, he has realized the tragic cost of the cause for which he has committed murder - a cause that eventually turns on him.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Stone Junction on November 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
One of the great perils for successful authors must be that point when they decide to 'stretch' their creative wings. The horror writers pens an introspective character study (Stephen King - ROADWORK). The English satirist attempts an American crime novel (Martin Amis - NIGHT TRAIN). The crime novelist delves into science fiction (Walter Mosley - BLUE LIGHT). At times like this, the fan base holds its collective breath, hoping for the best, fearing the worst. After all, why mess with a good thing?
A STAR CALLED HENRY, thank God, is one of the good ones. Great ones actually.
Previously, Irish novelist Roddy Doyle has focused his talents on life in modern-day Ireland. His works have been small character studies, with simple plots that come alive through Doyle's ear for dialogue and eye for intriguing themes. PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA, while considered a departure from his BARRYTOWN TRILOGY novels of blue collar Irish, was nevertheless a similar sort of story. A very small, intimate view of remarkable characters.
But A STAR CALLED HENRY takes Doyle into the new realms of historical fiction. In a story that can only be described as 'epic', Doyle traces the formative years of Henry Smart, street urchin turned IRA assassin, living at the beginning of the 20th century, as Ireland began to revolt against its English rulers.
Henry's beginnings show that Doyle has not traded his gift of characterization for narrative sweep. Henry's starts his tale before he was conceived, as his well-meaning but young mother falls in love with Henry Senior, a one-legged bouncer and hitman. With terrific economy of style, Doyle manages to convey both the excitement and desperation of Henry's life.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By jsiebrits@yahoo.com on November 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a really good work of fiction. Just don't expect one of Doyle's gently humorous looks at the lives of working-class Irish people, like his Barrytown trilogy.
This novel deals with the eventful first twenty years of the life of Henry Smart, the son of Henry Smart Senior. Senior is a whorehouse bouncer in early 1900's Dublin, and becomes a part-time murderer for the mysterious Alfie Gandon, whom he never meets. He eventually abandons his family, and their slide into desperate poverty and the decline of his wife is described in haunting detail. Henry Junior leaves home to fend for himself, assisted by his little brother Victor, who dies from consumption.
Henry Junior then becomes involved with the Republican Movement, not because he is a staunch Republican, but because he is hoping for a better, more socially just, Ireland. He becomes a crack Republican assassin in an increasingly dirty war, and eventually realises that he is serving a new, shadowy elite, one of whom is the same Alfie Gandon his father used to serve.
In the process Doyle makes a number of telling points about "liberation" movements, points not only applicable to the Irish experience. Three of the most important are:
1. Such movements are often mythologised/idealized, with the myth serving to hide skeletons in the cupboard.
2. The leaders of a liberation movement easily form a new elite, intent on amassing wealth and not serving the common people.
3. The footsoldiers in a liberation struggle are dispensable, and often do not gain from the struggle.
But this is not a pedantic novel, and can be read for enjoyment as well. I would rate it as one of Doyle's best two novels to date, on a par with the excellent "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors".
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