The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

A confession: despite having seen the film, listened to the soundtrack and seen the stage play multiple times I genuinely had no idea that The Commitments started off as a book series. In any case it’s one of my favourite musicals (sadly I believe it’s limited run in London is now over) so I was very excited to find it in a discount book shop in Toronto last week. 

It’s a pretty short book (I started and finished it on the bus journey to Niagra Falls) and it’s laid out in possibly the most distinctly Irish way ever (seriously, has the Irish/Dublin accent ever been captured so well on paper?) Rather than using inverted commas for speech each now piece of dialogue is announced with the much more abrupt dash, which makes the whole thing read exactly like the extended comedic argument it is.

If you’ve never seen or heard of The Commitments, the basic plot is that Jimmy Rabbitte wants to start a rhythm and blues soul band in downtown Dublin. The resulting clash of personalities (including an aged old rocket of dubious origins and a worker with an ego to match his voice) means that things don’t run smoothly. The book is funnier than any other version of the story I’ve seen and I did laugh openly at it in places. The film and stage play are more serious at points, but the book is just a laugh from beginning to end.

It felt very much a product of the 80s in terms of style but the way it’s written isn’t dated or hard to read… It’s just unconventional. There’s also a lot of commentary about class consciousness and class warfare, drugs and alcohol. The characters are all bold and opinionated, but in no way perfect. It’s just a really, really good read.

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