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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roddy's Finest Hour
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...
Published on November 26, 1999 by John Barry

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Do Your Research
If you are not familiar with the particulars of the Irish Rebellion, you'll enjoy HENRY more if you grab an encyclopedia and read up a bit. The author assumes that the reader has a certain amount of knowledge, and this can be frustrating if you don't. I also recommend watching the movie MICHAEL COLLINS with Liam Neeson, which covers the same historical events as the...
Published on December 31, 1999 by Librarian


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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roddy's Finest Hour, November 26, 1999
This review is from: A Star Called Henry (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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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Doyle's new book begins the story of an IRA assassin, November 24, 1999
By 
Cityview (Des Moines, Iowa) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Star Called Henry (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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Astonishing New Step for Roddy Doyle, November 19, 2000
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. After his abandonment by his father (in a heart-wrenching scene of loneliness and betrayal), Henry takes to the streets. But lest the reader believe that Doyle will begin to cultivate Henry as a loveable pickpocket a la OLIVER TWIST, the subject matter ensures that Henry's path will be a dark one.
As the years pass, and Henry grows into quite the ladies man (at 14 years old, no less), he becomes embroiled in the quickening Irish rebellion. He becomes a hitman for the cause, and a student of famous IRA leaders, most notably Michael Collins. He also marries Miss O'Shea, his elementary school teacher (for about two days), and together they begin to rewrite Irish history.
As I said, Doyle has not lost his knack for characters. Henry is a true original, a vicious killer and confused young boy. His relationship with Miss O'Shea is touching, if slightly bizarre. His continued search for elements of his past through his book-reading Granny is a plot device of startling originality.
But Doyle also shows his new-found maturity as a writer in his mixture of fact and fiction. He expertly traces the IRA rebellion, from its admirable roots to its disheartening failures. It is not an exhaustive examination; Henry himself is not one of the top men. But enough information is given to enable the uninformed reader to understand the situation. Doyle might have been tempted to flood the reader with names, dates, and events, but he wisely avoids the trap of simply listing famous events and putting Henry in the middle of them. Every scene has a purpose. While the revolution may be the backdrop, it is first and foremost Henry's story.
Doyle has proclaimed that A STAR CALLED HENRY is only the first volume in a planned epic entitled THE LAST ROUNDUP. While I eagerly await the second volume, I am also cautiously afraid. A STAR CALLED HENRY might be best left as a stand-alone novel. Thinking of Larry McMurtry's LONESOME DOVE quartet (a terrific set, really, but arguably shouldn't have continued past STREETS OF LAREDO), I can only hope that Doyle keeps up the same level of quality. Henry Smart is too fine a character to appear in sub-par sequels.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unsentimental Irish Ballad, March 12, 2000
This review is from: A Star Called Henry (Hardcover)
This is an extraordinary ballad of Ireland during the first quarter of the 20th Century. As Doyle points out early on in the book, all the "real songs" come from "the people." Written from the point of view of Henry Smart, a Dublin street "guttie" turned IRA rebel (and perhaps the most self-aware infant in literature since "A Tin Drum"), it demonstrates a deep love for the Irish people without the sentimentality of much of the literature of the period. Doyle commingles magical fictional characters with figures from the Irish Rebellion like James Connolly and Michael Collins in a way that illuminates the history. Ultimately, Henry--never one to embrace the goal of making "Dublin a jewel again" in any event--concludes that life in the Republic is no different from life in colonial Ireland, except that the controlling authorities have reverted to Gaelic spellings of their surnames. I think this is Doyle's best work yet, and I look forward to the next volume of the trilogy.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The ugly face of Republicanism, November 22, 2002
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".
My only gripe with the novel is that Henry is just too perfect a specimen of manhood given that he grows up on the streets of Dublin. A street kid of 14 who stands 6 feet tall and possesses enormous strength? Only possible in fiction.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Do Your Research, December 31, 1999
By 
Librarian (Southfield, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Star Called Henry (Hardcover)
If you are not familiar with the particulars of the Irish Rebellion, you'll enjoy HENRY more if you grab an encyclopedia and read up a bit. The author assumes that the reader has a certain amount of knowledge, and this can be frustrating if you don't. I also recommend watching the movie MICHAEL COLLINS with Liam Neeson, which covers the same historical events as the book. Together they give a fairly complete picture of this period of Irish history.
HENRY isn't my favorite Doyle title, but it has his usual scintillating writing. This is a tough story about a scrappy lad in a nasty time in Irish history. Worth reading.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound depression..., December 31, 2000
This review is from: A Star Called Henry (Hardcover)
That's the only real way to react to this book.
The story itself is sad enough: a kid born into poverty, denied education, drawn to revolution, and then betrayed by it.
What makes it more sad is to look at Ireland and see just how much today's Ireland reflects the power grabs that went on during the War of Independence and the following Civil War, and have continued ever since.
Ireland today is ruled by an elite that comes directly from the 1916-1923 period. Until the mid 1980's your only real political choices were Fine Gael and Fine Fail, two centrist parties whose only difference was over the 1922 peace treaty with England. Both parties favor a strong central government, with all the evils strong central government brings - see Charley Haughey for a recent example.
Having grown up in, and run screaming from, Ireland, I can see Henry's growing enlightenment, which becomes my enlightenment and causes me then to reflect on Irish history from 1923 to the present day, and see just how much of it has been driven by power-hungry animals out to do well for themselves at the expense of all others.
And don't get me going about Irish anti-semitism.
It's enough to break your heart.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars who is Henry!, December 2, 1999
By 
karl b. (Fraser Valley, BC, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Star Called Henry (Hardcover)
I usually feel trilogies are somewhat commercially manipulative. The reader is given a piece of a story and obligated to finish the epic over a period of years. Somehow it seems to rob the book of its compression and intensity-- its finality. Doyle has created a memorable set of characters. His description of the Easter Rebellion is scintillating. The depiction of the poverty and desperation of the Dublin slums poignant. The life of an IRA volunteer is unromantically and realistically portrayed in all its bloody carnage. His language is eidetic and at times mesmerizing (which saved the 4 stars). There seems to be a tendency, though, to present Henry as a personna while keeping the person a mystery. Other characters are left fustratingly oblique. I'd suggest that developing subsequent books around the lives of some of the characters here-- the martyrs of Easter, the madame, Henry's father-- would a better literary route than Henry himself, who seems chiseled in stone rather than flesh and blood.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doyle's A Star Called Henry is a compelling page-turner., November 18, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: A Star Called Henry (Hardcover)
This is the first Roddy Doyle novel that I have read, and I am hooked. Ultimately, this is not a "revisionist" novel about the leaders of the Easter Uprising and the struggle for Irish independence, or a conventional historical novel, as other readers have suggested. Rather, this is a very personal, and very compelling, story of one young man's early years, set against the backdrop of Irish history. But this is NOT history; it is Henry's story, as he sees it.
In addition to creating a very likeable and sympathetic narrator, what Doyle has done here, quite skillfully, is to craft a novel that draws the reader into a reconsideration of the violence that has accompanied the Irish struggle, a very timely exercise given recent developments in the Irish peace process. In the course of the novel, Henry gradually learns that murder is murder, and that the ends do not justify the means. Quite literally, he discovers that his crimes served no greater purpose than did those of his father before him.
But putting aside the deeper meanings and possible interpretations, Roddy Doyle has created a great read. I enjoyed the book tremendously, and would recommend it anyone, even readers with little background in Irish history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book of all time, March 29, 2005
I finished reading this story while visiting my then-boyfriend in Ireland. We were sitting in a pub, when I mentioned this book, and said "But they talk about Michael Collins so much! Who the heck is Michael Collins?" and the bar went quiet. They all looked at me, exasperated, pointed to a picture hanging on the pub wall, and said "THAT is Michael Collins!"

So, like another poster mentioned, you should probably read up a little on Irish history before you read this. It made some things a little vague for me at first, but I quickly put 2 and 2 together. If you want a crash course, try google-ing it: "Michael Collins" "Eamon DeValera" "Easter Uprising" and "Irish Civil War". Or do what my boyfriend did for me, and rent the movie "Michael Collins" (Liam Neeson & Julia Roberts).

In my opinion the two greatest things about this book are:

1) That Doyle weaves fact with fiction so beautifully. Like I said, he mentions big names and events, and you really learn some Irish history in the process.

2) Doyle's writing. Simply put, it's beautiful. Especially in this novel (his others, set in modern Ireland, not as much). He puts a sing-song quality to his words, that somehow translates when you read it.

Honestly, this is my favorite book of all time.
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A Star Called Henry (Last Roundup)
A Star Called Henry (Last Roundup) by Roddy Doyle (Paperback - October 5, 2004)
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