In 'Love,' Roddy Doyle Mines The Past — Over Many, Many Pints

Jun 20, 2020

Novelist Roddy Doyle is not an autobiographical writer, but he does acknowledge: "The characters have been getting older as I get older."

In his latest novel, Love, Joe and Davy are two old friends who meet at a Dublin pub for a night of reconnecting and hard drinking. Joe has a burning secret; Davy has a concealed sorrow.

Writing older characters, means "the angle at which I'm looking at the world changes," Doyle says. "There's a lot more looking back than looking forward."

Doyle is the Booker Prize-winning author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Commitments.


Interview Highlights

On Joe and Davy reconnecting

They find that their old friendship is brand new and current and actually extended right back to their childhoods. One of them had emigrated — as an awful lot of Irish people of my generation would have done. And in a way, when he returns to Dublin, he returns as a Dubliner, but also as a foreigner.

And then one of them says that he's met a woman that they both knew in their very early 20s. And not only has he met her, but things have gone a bit further. And it's about the clash of memory, then about how they can't share or won't share the memory. But I think ultimately, because they talk and keep talking and resist the temptation to go home, they talk themselves out of hostility really and back into this love that they would have shared.

On the role alcohol plays in his story

The alcohol is very important ... because they're kind of reliving a night — they're reliving their youth. Alcohol was a huge thing — when I grew up it was actually the mark of a man. ... Myself and my closest friends [as teens] ... you go into a pub, two or three of you, and try to look solemn ... as if this was your usual practice, and up to the bar and you'd ask for three pints. And if you got them, you know it was a sign you'd arrived. You were a man.

On the way the COVID-19 lockdown has changed the way he spends time with his friends in Dublin

We've been in lockdown here since early March. And my closest friends — men I grew up with and I've known since I was a teenager — we would meet once a week, perhaps sometimes more often, late at night in a local pub. And now we've met a few times, but it's out in the park drinking coffee because we can't go anywhere else. So we're. a little bit, in terms of our cultural lives, we're a bit homeless because there's no pub to go to.

It seems like a totally inadequate way in many ways to mark the death of a friend — to go off and get drunk. But on the other hand, what is an adequate way to mark the death of a friend? - Roddy Doyle

On the personal losses he experienced around the time he was writing this novel

One of my two closest friends was diagnosed with a brain tumor and all of a sudden he was dying. ... He died maybe eight weeks after my mother died. There was a couple of evenings where myself and again, our closest friends and actually our elder sons as well just went to the pub and drank. And it's a very Irish thing, I suppose. But it's what — if he had been alive — he would have been with us, if that makes sense. And it seems like a totally inadequate way in many ways to mark the death of a friend — to go off and get drunk. But on the other hand, what is an adequate way to mark the death of a friend?

On learning from our parents — both before and after they die

I suppose in a way, immediately after they die — we kind of idealized them a bit — and then they have to become human again. I was lucky enough to know my parents right up into my late 50s and to become friends with them as much as my parents. ... That fight you have with your parents to attain independence — when you get past that — there are lessons to be learned. ... If we can keep in touch with them, you know, I don't mean in a religious sense, but if they're there, if you're having that conversation with them ... it's sometimes unwelcome, but sometimes very welcome.

Danny Hensel and Ed McNulty produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Two old friends walk up to a bar in Dublin. We'll let Roddy Doyle begin to spin his own story.

RODDY DOYLE: (Reading) Do we go in? Definitely, said Joe. The double door was on the corner under a porch. He went for the right side. I took the left. Both doors opened when we pushed, then walked in side by side and sideways. The door swung back into place behind us. We heard them creak and rest. There was no television, no horse racing, no radio, no music. No one looked our way. We sat and saw. He was down on his hunkers, filling the lowest shelf with bottles of Britvic Orange. He heard us and turned, stood up, groaned and smiled. It was the first time a barman had smiled at us. Gentlemen, he said. He was happy to see us. We stayed there for months.

SIMON: And they've never stopped talking - or so it seems. Roddy Doyle's new novel is called "Love." And Roddy Doyle, the Booker Prize-winning author, joins us from Dublin. Thanks so much for being with us.

DOYLE: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Joe and Davy are boyhood friends. At the time we meet them in this novel, they have grown-up families in the world now. And when they meet up, Joe has a burning secret. And Davy has a concealed sorrow.

DOYLE: Yes.

SIMON: What do they find in each other during the shared bender?

DOYLE: Well, they find that their old friendship is brand-new and current. One of them had emigrated. And he returns as a Dubliner but also as a foreigner. And then one of them says that he's met a woman that they both knew in their very early 20s. And not only has he met her, but things have gone a bit further. And it's about the clash of memory then about how they can't share or won't share the memory. But I think ultimately because they talk and keep talking and resist the temptation to go home, they talk themselves out of hostility, really, and back into this love that they would've shared.

SIMON: I can't resist a bit of pop psychology.

DOYLE: (Laughter).

SIMON: Does Joe, who has left his wife for this woman, really love her? Or does he just want to be young again?

DOYLE: It's a good question in a way. It's an unanswerable one, as well, because, you know, beyond the limits of the words on the page, I don't know the answer to any questions, really. I don't write autobiography. But the characters have been getting older as I get older.

I mean, I've never done it myself. But I have heard of people who, the minute they open a Facebook account, start, you know, typing in the names of people they used to know.

SIMON: Yeah.

DOYLE: And I have heard of one or two cases where marriages have ended because somebody has found somebody they used to know. So I - sometimes, when I was rereading the novel and editing it, I wondered myself whether she even existed, you know?

SIMON: Yeah.

DOYLE: I wondered. But I mean, I claim full responsibility for the writing of the thing. But whether he's trying to climb back into the cloud of his youth or whether she is somebody who is just - Christ, she's lovely - I don't know.

SIMON: Yeah.

DOYLE: Back to your pop psychology, you can have a ball.

SIMON: (Laughter). Thanks.

DOYLE: You're working it out.

SIMON: Oh, I have. There is a father-son storyline, too, that becomes central here. And there's a scene where I found a line of dialogue that really unsettled me. I have to ask you about it. Davy remembers his father. And he says he'd always been a gentle man, too gentle, I often thought - gentleness as a type of absence.

DOYLE: So quiet, so deferential, almost as to seem uninterested. And Davy - what he thinks he might have missed is a loud father, a father who, when he played his music loud, would react to it like my own father - would shout, turn down that bloody noise. Now, my own children never got that because I grew up with rock 'n' roll. They started playing rock 'n' roll. And I was going to see what it was.

SIMON: They must have been very disappointed.

DOYLE: When I heard them playing The Clash, I should have, you know, shouted at them to turn it off instead of going in and say, oh, you're playing The Clash - brilliant.

SIMON: How much is the alcohol talking in this book?

DOYLE: Oh, the alcohol is very important. I mean, I'm not advocating it. I'm not, for a minute, saying that it's necessary. But in this case, again, because they're kind of reliving a night - they're reliving their youth - alcohol was a huge thing. When I grew up, it was actually the mark of a man somehow. I - you know, myself and my closest friends - you were bright enough not to go in as a huge gang because not only advertise the fact that you were too young to be served - but you go into a pub, two or three of you, and try to look solemn and as if this was your usual practice and up to the bar. And you'd ask for three pints. And if you got them, you know, it was a sign you'd arrived. You were a man.

SIMON: Yeah.

DOYLE: We've been in lockdown here since early March. And my closest friends, you know, men I grew up with and I've known since I was a teenager - we would meet once a week, perhaps, or sometimes more often late at night in a local pub. And now we've met a few times. But it's out in the car drinking coffee because we can't go anywhere else. So we're a little bit - in terms of our cultural lives, we're a bit homeless because there's no pub to go to.

SIMON: I feel obliged to ask - and I say this for whatever credibility it gives me - my middle name is Sullivan. And, you know, drinking has been the curse of our people on both sides of our family. And it's been my experience that alcohol makes you talk more and make less sense.

DOYLE: (Laughter). Possibly - possibly, but...

SIMON: Whereas your novel gets wiser as it goes on.

DOYLE: Well, to a degree - I mean, I had started the novel when my mother fell ill. But then one of my two closest friends was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died maybe eight weeks after my mother died. There was a couple of evenings where myself and, again, our closest friends and actually our elder sons, as well, just went to the pub and drank. And it's a very Irish thing, I suppose. But it's what - if he had been alive, he would've been with us, if that makes sense. And it seems like a totally inadequate way, in many ways, to mark the death of a friend to go off and get drunk. But on the other hand, what is an adequate way to mark the death of a friend?

SIMON: I'm sorry about your mother and your friend. It's been my experience that we don't learn the most important lessons from our parents until they leave us on our own, if you know what I mean.

DOYLE: Yes, I do. Yeah. A lot of - you know, I suppose in a way immediately after they die, we kind of idealize them a bit. And then they have to become human again. I was lucky enough to know my parents right up into my late 50s and to become friends with them as much as my parents. And I think it is that fight you have with your parents to retain independence. When you get past that, there are lessons to be learned by them. And some of the things they said and did - if we can keep in touch with them - you know, I don't mean in a religious sense. But I mean...

SIMON: Sure.

DOYLE: ...If they're there, if you're having that conversation with them, sometimes, it's a - sometimes unwelcome but sometimes very welcome.

SIMON: Roddy Doyle - his new novel is "Love." Thank you so much for being with us.

DOYLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.