Roddy Doyle: The Deportees and Other Stories
The Deportees and Other Stories, began life, as Roddy Doyle notes in the foreword, as a series of fragmented short stories written for Metro Eireann, Ireland’s multicultural newspaper. Restricted to chapters of eight hundred words, the short stories here all focus on the different aspects of a modern Ireland, one where multiculturalism is the focus. The Deportees and Other Stories is Doyle’s first collection of short stories to see print. And with humour throughout, they are trademark Doyle.
There are eight in total, of varying length. They tackle, amongst other things, issues of friendship, exclusion, inclusion, prejudice, racism, and respect. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work and, as Doyle says in his introduction, he knows there are loose ends so we can’t really go into the collection expecting well crafted stores. But sometimes he gets it right. And this, as most characters herein would say, is grand.
The first tale, Guess Who’s Coming To The Dinner, follows Larry Linnane, a man who prides himself on how his daughters can have open sexual conversations around him. But when one brings a black man home to the table, Larry is forced to face up to the fact that he may be a racist, and Doyle captures his ignorance well and in hilarious circumstances. Even more hilarious is 57% Irish in which, after a phone call, Ray Brady further develops a test he has made that measures how Irish a person is – based on reactions to things like Riverdance, Irish porn, and Robbie Keane’s goal in the 2002 World Cup:
The idea – the thesis – had come to Ray in the minutes, three years before, just after Robbie Keane had actually scored that goal and Ray had hugged and kissed maybe fifteen people in the pub, and he’d found himself in the arms of a big lad from Poland. And he’d wondered. Why was this guy hugging Ray? Kissing his forehead. Punching the air. Throwing his head back and singing.
Aside from all the comedy, there’s a horror story (albeit, still funny in places) in the shape of The Pram, in which a Polish au pair decides to scare the older sisters of her young charge with a fairy tale, one for which their young minds are too practical for, leading to amusing questions about the nature of the story’s baddie, but ultimately ending in tragedy.
The main attraction is The Deportees, not only because it is the title story and lengthiest among the collection, but because it revisits the character of Jimmy Rabbitte, the man responsible for putting together The Commitments. In the years that have passed, Ireland has changed a great deal, but thankfully Jimmy hasn’t, even if he is a bit older:
Jimmy Rabbitte knew his music. He knew his stuff alright. Jimmy was slagging Moby before most people had started liking him. He once heard two kids on the DART talking about Leftfield, and he was able to lean over and tell them they were talking through their holes and know that he was absolutely right. Jimmy knew that Radiohead’s last album was so bad that it was cool to defend it – but he didn’t. Not Jimmy. It was too important for fashion.
One day Jimmy gets the urge to start a new band and this time white Irish need not apply. He puts ads in the paper, picking his new collective from the immigrant population via such criteria as whether they can play and if they like The Corrs. If not, they’re in. And when the band’s first gig comes together it all falls apart, but thankfully, in the spirit of the Barrytown Trilogy, it leaves Jimmy on an optimistic note.
Of the other other stories, I found them less effective. In New Boy, where a black child attends a new school in Ireland, there were shades of Richard Yates’ Doctor Jack-o’-Lantern and the narration of Black Hoodie, a story about prejudices, felt too laboured, the youthful ‘like’ being overused. Home To Harlem deals with a Irishman struggling, since he is black, to find his Irishness, and I Understand rounds off the stories based on the idea of immigrant exploitation.
Although I found The Deportees to be a hit and miss collection, I couldn’t help laughing throughout. Doyle’s prose – or moreso his dialogue, since that makes up most of his prose – is just funny. Even when the story isn’t going so well, there’s never a dull moment. It would be interesting to see other short stories that Doyle has written, ones without the word restriction of Metro Eireann and tackling other subjects. But for now, The Deportees and Other Stories is a good a slice of bite-size Doyle but not ultimately filling.
September 23, 2007