Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Bright Light in Ireland's Cloudy Sky

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Bright Light in Ireland's Cloudy Sky

Article excerpt

A STAR CALLED HENRY by Roddy Doyle Viking

342 pp., $24.95

I learned about the IRA in 1982 during lunch at the Hard Rock Caf in central London. During my hamburger, a bomb blew up a crowded bandstand and killed six musicians in Regent's Park. Sound of the distant explosion startled us, but we laughed it off and went on with our meal.

A classmate of mine, though, was listening to the band that hot summer day. Shattered by her vision of the carnage, she quit school and flew back home.

Probably everybody in England and Northern Ireland has a story about the day the Troubles hit home. For thousands of people whose lives have been scarred by the conflict, it's impossible to fathom the terrorists responsible for these atrocities.

With "A Star Called Henry," Roddy Doyle has imagined the unfathomable. His vain young hero, Henry Smart, is a maddeningly likable killer who realizes only too late what horror he's perpetuating.

If Henry is right and "stories are the only thing the poor own," then he's a rich man indeed. The son of a hopeful girl and a one- legged thug, Henry starts his story with the miracle of his healthy birth in the slums of Dublin in 1901. He's the only flame among Angela's ashes, so to speak. Women and men stand in long lines to get a look at "the Glowing Baby."

With the outlandish pride that marks his entire story, Henry says, "They looked at me and saw a fine lad who was going to live. The women had never seen one before." Even as a toddler raging along the squalid streets by himself, Henry is impressed by his good looks and his power to seduce.

As his mother falls into madness and his father rises from bouncer to murderer, little Henry runs away with his nine-month-old brother in search of a better life.

After three hair-raising years on the streets, they find a moment of happiness in the classroom of Miss O'Shea. A cruel nun turns him back onto the streets, but not before Henry captures his teacher's heart.

Even as everyone wastes away around him, he never doubts his legendary potential. Five years later, at the ripe age of 14, Henry finally stumbles into history and again into the arms of Miss O'Shea. …

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