Just moved in to a new apartment, alone for the first time in years, Victor Forde goes every evening to Donnelly’s pub for a pint, a slow one. One evening his drink is interrupted. A man in shorts and pink shirt brings over his pint and sits down. He seems to know Victor’s name and to remember him from school. Says his name is Fitzpatrick. Victor dislikes him on sight, dislikes too the memories that Fitzpatrick stirs up of five years being taught by the Christian Brothers. He prompts other memories too – of Rachel, his beautiful wife who became a celebrity, and of Victor’s own small claim to fame, as the man who says the unsayable on the radio. But it’s the memories of school, and of one particular Brother, that he cannot control and which eventually threaten to destroy his sanity.
For years, I’ve been a fan of Roddy Doyle’s books, I remember sitting in the local library reading language and situations that were most definitely far more advanced than me. But, for me that was the joy of Roddy Doyle, coarse language and characters that constantly shocked the reader.
But if you’re looking for something like that in his latest book, then you’re in for a surprise as this book is quite different from his previous novels.
In this story we meet Victor Forde, recently moved to a new area in Dublin, he goes to his new local where he meets a man called Fitzpatrick who claims they went to school together. Fitzpatrick stirs up old memories and feelings that Victor had hidden away and makes him confront the childhood that he would rather forget, a childhood of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers Catholic School.
The story travels between the past and present tense and is seen through Victor’s narrative. The story reflects on the prominent moments in his life, where he meets his partner Rachel, their life as a successful celebrity couple and his battle with writing a novel about Ireland as well being respected as an author.
Throughout the story there is a sense of foreboding and an underlying despair that truly comes to light at the end, as Victor finally confronts his ghosts.
Victor is a desperate character, who longs to be successful but his childhood is holding him back from ever moving forward. The scenes where Victor is remembering his childhood are quite unsettling and can make for moving reading at times.
The story flows at a gentle and slow pace but at every moment, the reader is engaged with this likeable and troubled character. Dealing with the dark issue of child abuse that was quite prominent in Catholic Church and still something that the country has to deal with, ‘Smile’ is a bittersweet story that is filled with sharp wit and a troubled lead, this cleverly written tale of life’s journey and observation made for moving and sad reading.
You can buy Smile from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.