I'm a huge fan of Roddy Doyle and Irish literature in general. This story is about Henry, from his birth to his adult involvement in the IRA - a great read with sympathetic characters.
One of the reviewers of this book said you can't wait to finish it...but I didn't expect to feel like I wanted it to end. Not because it wasn't well-written and compelling, but because it is so grindingly cruel, hard, dirty--full of "shite" and pollution.
Especially when Henry, at the age of five, hits the streets with his nine-month-old brother and never finds his mother again. He sensed there was no place for him at home and the streets were his mother from then on. "We fended and coped, we survived and grew, side by side or with Vitor on my shoulder. We survived but never prospered. We were never going to prosper. We were allowed the freedom of the streets-- no one gave a fuck--but we'd never, ever be allowed up the bright steps and into the comfort and warmth behind the doors and windows."
They were inventive, figuring the scams before the scammers did. "I reinvented rat-catching. We didn't go after the rats; they came to us. We found their nests and took the babies, boiled them and rubbed the coup onto our arms and hands. (We never ate it. You can laugh or gage, but you've never been hungry.) The scent--Jesus, the scent--it drove their parents wild. We dangled our hands in front of their holes and they came at us as if, in their dreams, hey'd just seen the dogs that were going to destroy them. They'd scream for the children they could smell on our hands as we droped them into the sack. We carried the screeching, pounding sack to the betting men around the pit. They loved our rats. They paid me extra to put my hands into the sack."
When the actual "revolution' began, it was a relief from the life he had already been leading. And that was the point--why boys like him get involved in any revolution.
The story of Ireland's fight for independence, the IRA and the many groups of mercenaries who fought there. This part of the book goes better --I didn't feel like I was waiting for a merciful end. The book is engaging, although sometimes tough going for Americans, understanding Irish expressions and colloquialisms. It has made me want to understand more about this part of their history and the history of my relatives.