A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle is a New York Times Editor’s Choice award winning book and a Penguin Classic that was published over 18 years ago. Yet, it still has cache today.
Doyle has a voice that is compelling and draws you into the life of Melody and Henry Smart who live in Ireland. Even through the vivid recounting of rough times, heart-wrenching miscarriages and stillborn children you root for this couple. The reader is rewarded by the birth of baby Henry Smart who is the picture of health in all of the poverty artfully portrayed by Doyle in a colloquial, yet literary manner.
Young Henry Smart’s life parallels Ireland’s campaign for freedom from British rule. Henry is somehow a part of every important phase of the Revolution. The beats (plot points) of this story reminded me of the movie Forrest Gump and how Forrest was inserted in all of the important movements and moments in American history in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. However, A Star Called Henry is nowhere near the campiness of Gump. It is at once surreal, poignant, literary and gritty mainly due to the Irish brogue that permeates the dialogue throughout the book.
There’s one passage, on page 208, that gripped me. It encapsulated the entire struggle for independence and the inner machinations of the British Empire, at the time. This one passage left a deep impression upon me…
“And the British would hit back; they’d over-react. They always did. Over the next four years, they never let us down. It wasn’t that they made bad judgments, got the mood of the country wrong: they never judged at all. They never considered the mood of the country worth judging. They made rebels of thousands of quiet people who’d never thought beyond their garden gates. They were always our greatest ally; we could never have done it without them.” – Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry
This is the type of book I enjoy – full of insight, humor, and the realities of life of those less than privileged. It is definitely rough reading at times. However, there’s a wonderful payoff when you finish it.