The Deportees, by Roddy Doyle
Diversity and tolerance in Dublin hymned in demotic immigrant songs
Tuesday 11 September 2007
The eight stories in Roddy Doyle's collection are written with a single purpose in mind: to foster tolerance in ticklish circumstances. In modern Dublin, this means tolerating, and even welcoming, the massive influx of foreigners whose presence might be a cause of discord or annoyance. Tolerance in Ireland no longer involves Unionist and Nationalist, Protestant and Catholic, big house and slum. The 21st century has brought new versions of the old necessity to clamp down on instinctual aversion and stereotypical thinking.
Doyle is very much on the side of ethnic diversity, raunchiness and pragmatism. These stories, on the whole, are composed in a cheerful, rueful, affirmative mode, and tackle head-on assorted problems of identity and integration, as the state of being Irish gains a wider and wider application. "The problem is but," says a character in one of the most invigorating stories, "I'm black and Irish, and that's two fuckin' problems." "Home to Harlem" is the title, fraught with ironies. Declan O'Connor's granda was a black GI, and he's in the US to research the influence of Harlem on Irish literature – something of a non-starter.
The collection opens with "Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner", in which an ordinary, good-hearted father-of-five keeps putting his racist Ballymun foot in it. Next comes the title story, a kind of off-shoot of Roddy Doyle's first novel, The Commitments, featuring a re-formed band whose members are required to come proclaiming all manner of non-Irish credentials.
In a more serious vein is "New Boy", whose impassive young hero, Joseph, has survived war in a distant country and a murdered father to wind up in a game of one-upmanship with Kellys and Quinns in an Irish classroom. Joseph will win through, you gather, unlike the Polish au pair of "The Pram", a striking story in which Doyle very nearly elides into Roald Dahl, with his grasp of neatly delineated horror.
"Black Hoodie" gamely tries to separate the anti-social connotations of a piece of clothing from the staunchness of the teenage narrator who wears it. This one gains most of its charm from the youthful Nigerian-Irish alliance at its centre, and charm these stories must have, if they're not to fall into urban slickness or truculence. Charm and animation are the qualities that count with Doyle's deportees, as he goes about sticking up for disparaged incomers in a context of Dublin demotic exuberance.
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