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


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?

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.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.