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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