A Star Called Henry

A Star Called Henry

Book - 1999 | 1st Canadian ed. --
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An historical novel like none before it, A Star Called Henry marks a new chapter in Booker Prize-winner Roddy Doyle's writing. It is a vastly more ambitious book than any he has previously written. A subversive look behind the legends of Irish republicanism, at its centre a passionate love story, this new novel is a triumphant work of fiction. Born in the slums of Dublin in 1902, his father a one-legged whorehouse bouncer and settler of scores, Henry Smart has to grow up fast. By the time he can walk he's out robbing, begging, charming, often cold, always hungry, but a prince of the streets. At fourteen, already six foot two, Henry's in the General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916, a soldier in the Irish Citizen Army, fighting for freedom. A year later he's ready to die for Ireland again, a rebel, a Fenian, and, soon, a killer. With his father's wooden leg as his weapon, Henry becomes a republican legend - one of Michael Collins' boys, a cop killer, an assassin on a stolen bike, a lover.
Publisher: Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1999
Edition: 1st Canadian ed. --
ISBN: 9780676972351
Characteristics: 343 p. --


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Apr 28, 2021

Set primarily in the late 1910s, A STAR CALLED HENRY fits snug against its historical Irish backdrop. It's a fictional account of the making of a rebel during the Irish Revolution under which the IRA was formed, eventually leading to civil war.

Roddy Doyle has created an impresario in Henry Smart, the novel's protagonist. Celebrated as a babe (the que to see him wrapped around the block) Henry represented hope for Ireland's future. That he was a large baby wasn't cause enough for celebration, "big brats were ten a penny, and cheaper," but his excellent health was. Henry exuded the confidence born of good health, with a glow like no Dublin baby before him. Barely a week out of the womb, and he was already famous.

Tall for his age, Henry joined the resistance at fourteen, passing himself off as an older lad. Born to Henry Smart (senior), and Melody Nash who met lying in the mud of a Dublin alley, Henry is created of larger-than-life pen strokes infused with an Irish mythology of the author's own making. Pen strokes that cover the slums of Dublin in an extra coat of soot, transform a child into a war hero, make a one-legged man the most fearsome fighter in the street, and spark romance under the most unseemly of circumstances:

"[Melody] felt sorry for him. No leg, no home - the only thing holding him up was his vulnerability. She saw honesty . . . She'd knocked the poor cripple onto the street, his face was bleeding, he'd no home to hop home to - and he didn't blame her . . . he was smiling. A nice smile, he was offering it, half a smile. He didn't look like a cripple. She liked the space where the leg should have been.

"She took off her shawl and wiped his face with it . . .
- Now, she said.
They were already a couple."

As the rebellion drags on, our teenage Henry comes into his own. He rises in popularity with the recently formed IRA, but not in rank. Killing is his primary skill; his father's wooden leg his weapon of choice. He kills with the professionalism of a hired gun, the style of a street fighter, and the heart of a convert. He's surrounded by "eejits," men with no moral code who rarely think beyond killing Brits; men who gladly leave the planning of Ireland's future to others who could also use a swift kick of moral fortitude in the pants.

Henry isn't left to fight all his battles alone. In Miss O'Shea - his former school teacher - Henry finds a soulmate. As good on the battlefield as she is in the sack, they perform missions, sometimes together, usually alone, racking up kills for Irish independence. They're a formidable force whether working together or apart, at once both embraced and distanced for their effectiveness. In rebellion, a good soldier is all fine and well, but a soldier whose allegiance to a symbol supersedes his allegiance to the men planning the future is cause for concern.

In Henry, Doyle's created an everyman hero for the revolution. One who's loyal to a fault and unquestionably dedicated to the cause of Irish independence, but Henry's no chess player. While he plays at checkers, the men planning Ireland's future are playing chess, a discovery Henry makes late in the game, and one which will forever reframe his story. The boy who was raised in the slums where the "Dirt and grime were the glues that held Dublin together," was a thing of the past in the new Ireland. A free Ireland promised a future of justice with liberty, full bellies and glowing hearths. One need only imagine it. A free Ireland was the promise Henry had been fighting for all these many years; his fait accompli, if he can survive it.

Dec 05, 2014

a masterpiece, brilliant, funny and very observant of the political situation before and after the British left

Oct 01, 2011

This book takes us into the life of Henry Smart who faces a life of poverty growing up in the poverty of Ireland in the early 1900s. He comes to follow in his own father's footsteps (wooden leg in hand) as an escapist, who joins the Irish Republican Army as a hitman. It was an enjoyable read, but Dowell's writing will not serve as an enticement for me to read the next two books in this trilogy. (Nov 2006)

Apr 19, 2010

My brother and father convinced me to read this by telling me it was about an Irish guy who knocks in heads with his dad's old wooden leg. That pretty much sold me.

I didn't care much for the rest of the trilogy, but never mind that; read this one, and then stop there. It's a brilliant romp for adolescents and adults alike.

Nov 02, 2007

Read this before you read Oh Play that Thing. It is the first part.

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Apr 19, 2010

mclauia thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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Apr 28, 2021

A STAR CALLED HENRY (Penguin Books, $14.00) is the fictional account of Henry Smart III (a debatable designation there being so many Henry Smarts, dead and all but forgotten before him). Celebrated as a baby for his glowing health, he bounces into manhood at the young age of fourteen, making his name in the struggle for Irish independence. Doyle does an impressive job of creating a world - and characters - of mythic proportions which he balances against a backdrop mythic in itself: the Irish Revolution.

There appears no limit to the lengths Doyle will go to create a story that is: a) larger than life; b) will hold the reader's attention. He achieves both successfully by infusing his characters with unlikely strengths. A one-legged man, a limiting disability in the hands of less imaginative writers, becomes the fiercest fighter in the street. And handsome, even as he is lying in the mud. Henry's mother, Melody - who in a twist of irony has no music in her life - might as well have mothered all the Irish, so many lads and lassies she's brought into the world, only to have them die of consumption or an arms-length list of other diseases. So many lost; enough to fill the sky with stars.

HENRY is a deconstruction of Ireland's history, reassembled with a mythology of Doyle's own making. He imbues battle scenes with magic; exaggeration to every escape; embellishment of all kind and nature. Not even Dublin's mud retains the essence of run-of-the-mill mud in Doyle's hands.

With HENRY, Roddy Doyle has delivered a classic yarn, and with it, his place in Irish literature secured.


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Apr 28, 2021

With HENRY, Roddy Doyle has delivered a classic yarn, and with it, his place in Irish literature secured.


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