Far be it from me to utter a word against the patron saint of Dublin pubs, Roddy Doyle. Granted he’s a comic genius, his dialogue comparable with Beckett and that this, his 12th novel, is garnering rave reviews in America. But is not Doyle’s trademark conversation between two men in a pub not just a little interminable?
Love follows on from Two Pints (a play), Two More Pints and (last year) Two for the Road – two men chewing the fat on news events from 2014 to 2019. Squibs compared to Love, which is bigger, deeper, longer — but still two men in a pub.
Joe and Davy, fifty-plus drinking buddies, meet again after a long gap. Davy, now living in England, is in Dublin on a visit. Going from pub to pub as they did in their youth, they spend the night recalling past memories that don’t always tally.
The narrative drive of the novel lies with Joe who has met up with Jessica, the dream woman of their youth and has left home to live with her. Trying to define this love —mystical, magical, meant-to-be — takes an exhausting number of effing pints and pages without ever being answered. Maybe it can’t be. Language has its limits. Maybe it’s in the silences. And maybe it’s a red herring and what readers would do well to focus on is what keeps Davy checking his phone most of the night.
Ultimately the ridiculous if irresistible Joe/Jessica romance feels like a literary device designed to distract the reader from the true heart of the novel, which is the fact that Davy has come back to Dublin to look after his father who, we discover in the last, very moving 40 pages of the novel, is in a hospice close to death.
Red herring or literary device, the over-long dialogue on the Joe/Jessica romance allows Doyle to write about marriage, children, fathers and sons, indeed love in all its various form, and most importantly, the complexities of friendship. But the father/son heart of the story is weakened and the reader exhausted by what becomes a tedious fairy tale kind of love. Ultimately it’s Joe accompanying Davy to the hospice that cements this old friendship.
The novel’s worth reading if only for Davy’s two-page paean to the Dublin pub — where ‘women were guests’ and ‘the men were at home’; the pub that was ‘the shy man’s haven’; the place where ‘men stepped out of a world into their real world. The secret one. The sacred one.’
What Doyle’s next work might be is hard to guess. I suspect two men meeting on Zoom won’t do it for him.
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