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Book Review - The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

image039The Commitments by Roddy Doyle (winner of the Booker Prize for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha).

First published in1987 The Commitments is an energetic musical journey through 1980’s Barrytown (Northside Dublin), and is a novel of hope in a time of heroin and hopelessness.

The story begins in Derek’s bedroom where three late teenagers are trying to emulate the likes of Depeche Mode, Roxy Music and The Human League despite only having access to a small Casio keyboard a borrowed guitar and a borrowed glockenspiel!

However when they consult old school friend Jimmy Rabbitte known locally as a music guru ( ’Jimmy had relax before anyone had heard of Frankie goes to Hollywood and started slagging them off months before anyone realised they were no good’), to be their manager they change the name of their group from And, And, And! to The Commitments; and their musical style from pop to soul.

Jimmy Rabbitte is the hero of the story, pulling together a group of teenagers and an ‘old baldie’ to form a band; to perform the music of James Brown, Ottis Redding and Marvin Gaye; to bring soul to the working class people of Dublin. Although the Commitments have musical cohesion around the soul tracks there is no spiritual unity, so as the band develops egos grow and disunity quickly develops.

The Commitments is an incredibly funny book, making good use of the local vernacular language. Although ultimately sad, it has a serious political agenda about the youthful alienation and working class anger of the time.

The story is told mainly through dialogue with a slight amount of character descriptions. Therefore the layout of the book looks more like a play script than a novel, as the French style dash is used to indicate dialogue instead of inverted commas and includes the lyrics of the songs and the sounds the instruments make!

The story has since been made into a film and a musical, but the book remains an excellent read, evocative of its time and place.

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