The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle was recently selected as the book for next years Dublin One City, One Book, an initiative by Dublin City Library which selects and promotes a book with a Dublin emphasis for a month, and running a number of events. I was familiar with the films of The Commitments and The Snapper but had never read the books, and I knew nothing about The Van.
The three books follow different members of the Rabbite family, living in a fictional working class suburb of Dublin, Barrytown. The Commitments follows Jimmy Jr. through the trials and tribulations of setting up a band. The Snapper follows Sharon through her unplanned pregnancy. Finally The Van follows Jimmy Sr. and his friend Bimbo after they are made redundant and they set up a chip van during the madness that was Italia 90 (the high point in Irish football/soccer).
I’m most familiar with the story of The Commitments as the film is shown on a regular basis on Irish TV. I felt the book was the rare exception to the rule “the book is always better then the film”. In this instance I feel the film is better then the book, purely because there is such an emphasis on music. While songs are printed in the book, its not same. However it was still an enjoyable read.
The Snapper I’m also somewhat familiar with, though the film isn’t shown quite as frequently as The Commitments. It was probably my favourite of the three. It really encapsulates family life, and gives us a wonderful father daughter relationship between Jimmy Sr. and Sharon, which is not something you see that often.
The Van was the only of the three I was totally unfamiliar with. I’m too young to remember Italia 90, but it is something growing up in Ireland everyone is aware of, the golden days of Irish football (soccer). I thought Doyle’s portrayal of how being unemployed effects people, particularly men, was spot on. I also loved the touching, and generally very funny, scenes between Jimmy and his sons which we hadn’t really got to see in the other books.
Throughout the three books, Doyle really captures the spirit, the character, wit and the language of Dubliners. The city through its people springs off the page.
All in all these are excellent books which deal with some rather serious topics, but in such a manner that you won’t stop laughing from start to finish. I think it is a great selection for the One City, One Book initiative.