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4.3 3
by Roddy Doyle

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The Man Booker Prize-winning author takes the pulse of modern Ireland with a masterful new collection of stories.

Roddy Doyle has earned a devoted following for his wry wit, his uncanny ear, and his ability to fully capture the hearts of his characters. Bullfighting, his second collection of stories, offers a series of bittersweet takes on men


The Man Booker Prize-winning author takes the pulse of modern Ireland with a masterful new collection of stories.

Roddy Doyle has earned a devoted following for his wry wit, his uncanny ear, and his ability to fully capture the hearts of his characters. Bullfighting, his second collection of stories, offers a series of bittersweet takes on men and middle-age, revealing a panorama of Ireland today. Moving from classrooms to local pubs to bullrings, these tales feature an array of men taking stock and reliving past glories, each concerned with loss in different ways-of their place in the world, of their power, their virility, health, and love. "Recuperation" follows a man as he sets off on his daily prescribed walk around his neighborhood, the sights triggering recollections of his family and his younger days. In "Animals", George recalls caring for his children's many pets and his heartfelt effort to spare them grief when they died or disappeared. The title story captures the mixture of bravado and helplessness of four friends who go off to Spain on holiday. Sharply observed, funny, and moving, these thirteen stories present a new vision of contemporary Ireland, of its woes and triumphs, and middle- aged men trying to break out of the routines of their lives.

Editorial Reviews

Tom Shone
There is not a writer currently working in English who can match Doyle for the fluency with which he tacks back and forth between the hilarious and the heartbreaking. "Sad and good had become the same thing," thinks a mourner in one story who has attended too many funerals, and in this collection Doyle hits that sweet spot again and again.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The men in Doyle's sardonic and bittersweet collection are teetering on the edge of middle age, and while they're not always desperate to stay young, there's something terrifying about the future for each of them. Doyle (The Dead Republic) homes in on that fear and doses each tale with his trademark dark humor. In "Recuperation," Mr. Hanahoe walks his Dublin neighborhood as part of a forced exercise regimen, giving him the opportunity to assess his unraveling life: a wife who sleeps in a separate bedroom, kids grown up, no social interactions. Then there's Terence in "The Slave," who finds a dead rat in his kitchen and embarks on a mental game of what if? The nameless narrator in "Blood" lands in a predicament generally not associated with midlife crises: he develops an insatiable thirst for blood. Soothed at first by eating raw steaks and chops, he soon determines the real root of his cravings, to bad results. Doyle, with his ear for Dublin colloquialisms, is never better than in "Animals," where George remembers his children's long-dead pets, and "Sleep," where Tom watches his wife in bed and feels the years slip away. They're the men for whom reflection, even when tinged with regret, is cathartic. (May)
Library Journal
In Doyle's second short story collection, his unparalleled mastery of dialog and characterization pulses through 13 selections that deal with working men in midlife. A compelling sameness runs throughout these stories, which feature declining health, the mystery of fatherhood, and mostly comfortable domesticity, but in each tale Doyle adjusts his unifying theme in subtle ways to reveal startling moments of confusion and clarity. In the stunning title story, for example, four Dublin friends bound by shared history and habit vacation in Spain. They fall into a routine that resembles an extended version of their weekly gatherings at a local pub. This familiarity, though, is both disrupted and affirmed when the friends face a bull doomed to die in agony. VERDICT Doyle's storytelling brilliance is evident on every page of this work. His exploration of how history shapes individual lives is particularly rewarding here, and many characters mention living through church scandals, the heady days of the Celtic Tiger, and two recessions. Their equilibrium, suggests Doyle, balances on shared suffering and hopes that resist these turbulences. Essential Doyle. [See Prepub Alert, 12/13/10.]—J. Greg Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


He walks. Every day, he walks. That was what the doctor had said. All the doctors. Plenty of exercise, they’d told him. It was the one thing he’d really understood.
—Are you a golf man, Mr Hanahoe?
—Hill walking?
—Do you walk the dog?
—No dog.
He’d buried the dog a few years ago, in the back garden.
—We’ll have to get you exercising.

He walks now, every day. Sundays too. He hadn’t even liked the dog. He walks, the same way. Except  maybe when it was a pup, and the kids were younger. Every day, the same way. The way he went the first day. Up the Malahide Road.
Hanahoe walks. When the dog died the kids were upset, but not upset enough to go out in the rain and dig the grave. The dog had been dying for years; the kids were living most of their time outside the house. It had been up to Hanahoe. He starts at the Artane roundabout, his back to town, facing Malahide.
He starts.

He’d have waited till it stopped raining, but it didn’t seem right, and it had been raining for days. So he dug in the dark. It was easy work, the ground was so wet. The spade sank nicely for him. And he dug up a rabbit. He saw it in the torchlight. A skeleton. He’d buried the rabbit years before: before the dog, after the goldfish.
It takes him ten minutes to get to the Artane roundabout but he doesn’t count that. The walk starts, the exercise starts, when he’s on the corner of Ardlea Road and the Malahide Road.
He had meant to tell the kids about the rabbit. He threw it back in, on top of the dog. He’d meant to tell them about it the next morning, before work and school. It was the only time they were all together in the house. But, he remembers now as he walks, he never did tell them. And he didn’t throw the rabbit in. He lowered it, on the spade, and let it slide off, onto the dog. He forgot to tell them. He thinks he forgot. He’s not sure.
There are other places he could walk. There are plenty of places. He could get in the car and drive to St Anne’s or Bull Island, or the path along the coast, or even out to Howth. But he doesn’t. He’s not sure why, just certain that he won’t. But that’s not true. He does know why; he knows exactly why. It’s people. Too many people. He got out of the habit of talking. As the kids were getting older. He put a stone slab, left over from the patio, over the dog’s grave, and then remembered that there was no dog now to dig it up. There was no need for the slab. Another thing he was going to tell the kids, and didn’t.
This is the stretch that Hanahoe has chosen. Starting outside the old folks’ flats. Mount Dillon Court. He’s never seen anyone coming out of there. Old or young – a milkman or Garda, a daughter, grandchild. No one. And that suits him. He’d stop looking if he saw anyone.

—Do you get down to the pub at all?
—The golf club?
—You asked me that the last time. No.
He used to. He went to the pub now and again. Once a week, twice. Sometimes after mass. She came too. He thought she’d liked it. He’d always thought that. A pint for him, something different for her. Gin and tonic, vodka and something, Ballygowan, Baileys. She’d never settled on one drink. And he doesn’t remember ever thinking there was anything wrong with that. He walks past the old cottages. They’re out of place there, on the dual carriageway. He walks beside the cycle path. To the newer houses. They’re on a road that runs beside the main road. They’re well back and hidden, behind old hedges and trees. If people look out at him passing every day, he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t know them, and he won’t. He walks on the grass. The ground is hard. It hasn’t rained in a long time.
He wears tracksuit bottoms. She bought them for him. They were in a bag at the end of the bed when he got home from the hospital. Champion Sports. Two tracksuits. A blue and a grey. He doesn’t wear the tops. And he won’t. He doesn’t know when she moved into their daughters’ bedroom; he’s not sure, exactly. It was empty for a while. After the eldest girl moved out, and then her sister. And then she’d moved in, after a few months. He has trainers as well, that he got himself after he came home. The first time he went out, up to Artane Castle. There was no row or anything when she moved into the girls’ room. He doesn’t think there was. He woke up one night, and she wasn’t there. And the next night he felt her getting out of bed. It was too hot, she said. The night after that, she said nothing. The night after, she went straight to the girls’ room. A few years ago. Two, three. The trainers still look new. She never came back to their room. And he never asked why not. He’s been wearing them for a month now. They still look new-white. It annoys him.
Past Chanel Road. Past the Rampaí sign. He’s at the turn-off for Coolock. He looks behind, checks for cars. He’s clear, he crosses. Chanel to the left, the school. The kick-boxing sign on the gate pillar. Juniors and Seniors, Mondays and Fridays. They’d nothing like that when his kids were younger. Kick-boxing. Martial arts. Skateboarding. Nothing like that – he thinks. Hanahoe crosses the road.
—Are you a joiner?
—Do you join? Clubs. Societies.
—No, yet, or no, never?
He doesn’t answer. He shrugs.
He used to be. He thought he was. A joiner. The residents, the football. Fundraising, bringing kids to the matches. He did it. He did them all. He’d enjoyed it. Then his sons stopped playing, and he stopped going. Less people to talk to – it just happened that way. He didn’t miss it at the time. He doesn’t miss it now.
He passes the granite stone, ‘Coolock Village’ carved into it, ‘Sponsored by Irish Shell Ltd, 1998’. He’s behind the petrol station, the second-hand cars, against the back wall. Behind the chipper, and Coolock Glass. A high wall, there’s nothing to see. To his right, the traffic. Too early for the rush, but it’s heavy enough. He wonders what kick-boxing is like, what kick-boxing parents are like. He hasn’t a clue. He’s at the church now, the car park. There’s nothing on – funeral, wedding – no one there. He enjoyed the football. He liked the men who ran the club – he remembers that, he remembers saying it. There was a trip to Liverpool – the car, the ferry. Three kids in the back, another father beside him. That had been good. A good weekend. Liverpool had won. Against Ipswich or Sunderland. Some team like that. He’s doing well. He’s not tired. It’s hot. It might rain.
Another high wall, the backs of more houses. He has to bend under branches. Southampton. A bus passes, knocks warm air against him. Liverpool beat Southampton. The bus swerves in, to the stop in front of him. A woman gets off. She walks away. She’s faster than him; he won’t see her face. She wears trainers, like his. He stopped going to mass. She still goes. As far as he knows. He stopped going when the kids stopped. He’s coming up to the crossroads. There’s one of the Africans there, selling the Herald. Walking between the cars at the lights. He’s never seen anyone buy one. But the Africans are there, every day.

He can cross; the light is green for him. Cadbury’s, down to the left. More houses, in off the road. He hated mass, the whole thing. Always did. Standing up, sitting down. Most Sundays. Or Saturday nights, when they started that. Getting it over with.
He’s at the back of Cadbury’s now. It’s like a park. Greenhouses and all. It’s like the countryside here, the little river, the trees. What it must have been like. But not in his memory. It was always like this.
It’s depressing, a life, laid out like that. Mass, driving the kids to football, or dancing. The pint on Friday. The sex on Sunday. Pay on Thursday. The shop on Saturday. Leave the house at the same time, park in the same spot. The loyalty card. The bags. The routine. One day he knew: he hated it.
His mother worked in Cadbury’s when he was a kid. Christmas and Easter. The cinema across the road. The UCI. He hasn’t been to the pictures in years. She used to bring home Easter eggs, the ones that were out of shape, no use for the shops. He brought one into school. His lunch. King of the world that day. He can’t remember the last film he went to. He’s starting to sweat. Fine.
That’s exercise. That’s what they want. He can smell the Tayto factory. It’s not too bad today. Clouds gathering, ahead. Getting ready. It’s hot. Michael Collins. The last film he went to. But that’s a long time ago. He’s sure he’s been since then. He looks across at the UCI. But he can’t read the names of the films. Too far away. He hasn’t a clue what’s on, what’s big. No kids at home now. He’s going past the paint factory. He thinks it’s a paint factory. AkzoNobel. Berger, Sandtex, Sadolin. She doesn’t go to the pictures either. He doesn’t think she does. She didn’t like Michael Collins. He did.
More country cottages. And more behind them, old lanes, warehouses. He’s coming up to Woodie’s. She meets her friends when she goes out – he thinks. She still tells him, sometimes. Before she goes. Tells him she’s going. Who she’s meeting. A gang of women she’s known for years. He knows them all. He knows their husbands. They used to go out together, the men and the women. It wasn’t too bad. Not now though, not in years. Maybe she goes to the pictures with them. He doubts it. She’d tell him. It’s not that they never talk. She went to a play, a few months back. In town. She told him. Something like that, she’d tell him. He’d tell her. It’s not that bad.
He hates Woodie’s. Not the shop. He sees the need – wood, paint. He opens his jacket. It’s a bit too hot now. He’s fine. He’s grand. The heart is calm. It’s not the products. It’s the idea. The DIY. The people who live in the place at the weekend. Haunting the aisles. And the other shops over there. Classic Furniture. Right Price Tiles. ‘Tile Your Bathroom For €299.’ The pet shop’s gone. The big place. He used to go there with the kids. She’d come with them. They laughed when they realised: it was a family outing. Nearer than the zoo. Ice cream on the way home. The kids were delighted. The innocence. It was lovely.
He looks behind. Before he crosses. It’s usually busy. Nothing coming; he doesn’t have to stop. The McDonald’s is new. Toymaster. PC Superstore. And Lidl. Only open a week. Some kind of supermarket. The car park is fuller, packed since it opened.
He doesn’t know when it changed. He doesn’t know when he knew. Before she moved out of the bedroom. They stopped talking. There was nothing dramatic. He’s been living alone for years. He doesn’t know what happened. There was no shouting, very little. There was no violence. No one was hit. No one played away from home. He didn’t. She didn’t.
There was a Christmas do. He’s coming up to the Texaco station. The pub is behind it. Newtown House. Two doors, no windows. The Belcamp Inn, it used to be called – he thinks. The only place, the only time he was ever in a fight. In the days when he took his time coming home. He looks behind, crosses the turn for the industrial estate. Friday night. He knocked into a guy at the bar. Not really a fight. Just a couple of digs – he was too scared to feel them. Then too scared to leave.
That Christmas do. A young one who’d just started in the job a few weeks before. His leg had touched hers, sitting together. He was surprised when she didn’t move. A bit scared. Her leg pressed against his. Nothing sexy about it. Nice, though. The thought. Then they’d met in the corridor. Him going to the toilet, her coming back. They smiled. He stopped. She didn’t. Then she did. He put his hands on her. They kissed. Rubbed each other. He was bursting, full of drink. They stopped. He went to the jacks, came back, and it never happened. That was it. That was all. He never told anyone.
He looks. Cars coming up behind him. He waits, and crosses the station entrance. It’s not as fancy as those new forecourts going up everywhere. Martina. Goodlooking girl. She was young. But so was he.
That was all.
He doesn’t know what happened. Or what he’d say, how he’d bring it up, after this long.
—What went wrong?
He could never say that.
—What happened?
She’d look at him. He’d have to explain. Where would he start? He hadn’t a clue. And the question would announce it – the end. They’d have to admit it. And one of them would have to go.
But he’s alone already. He knows the last time he spoke to someone. This morning. Getting the paper. The woman behind the counter.
—Nice day again.
That was it. A nice woman. Attractive. His age. A bit younger. He’s coming up to the Darndale roundabout. He never looked at women his age. Until recently. They were always too old. Not really women; ex-women. Now, though, he looks. But he doesn’t. Not really. He doesn’t know what he’d do if a woman spoke to him.
—Nice day again.
What else could he say? He isn’t interested. He’s used to himself. He’s fine. He’s come to the roundabout. He’ll go on. He isn’t tired. He crosses. Darndale to the left. Rough spot. He’s never been in there. He runs the last bit, trots – to the other side. He’s fine.
It’s dark, very quickly. Like four hours gone, in a second. And cold, and it’s raining. He goes on. He closes his jacket. It’s bucketing. There’s an inch of sudden water. He can’t see far. The traffic noise has changed; it’s softer, menacing.
Who’s to blame? No one. It just happened. It’s too late now. He can’t pull them back, his wife, the kids. They have their own lives. She does; they do. Maybe grandkids will do something. If there are any. He doesn’t know. He knows nothing. He feels nothing. He doesn’t even feel sorry for himself. He doesn’t think he does. He’s fine. He copes.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Roddy Doyle is an internationally bestselling writer. His first three novels—The Commitments, The Snapper, and the 1991 Booker Prize finalist The Van—are known as The Barrytown Trilogy. He is also the author of the novels Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993 Booker Prize winner), The Woman Who Walked into Doors, and A Star Called Henry, and a non-fiction book about his parents, Rory&Ita. Doyle has also written for the stage and the screen: the plays Brownbread, War, Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner, and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors; the film adaptations of The Commitments )as co-writer), The Snapper, and The Van; When Brendan Met Trudy (an original screenplay); the four-part television series Family for the BBC; and the television play Hell for Leather. Roddy Doyle has also written the children's books The Giggler Treatment, Rover Saves Christmas, and The Meanwhile Adventures and contributed to a variety of publications including The New Yorker magazine and several anthologies. He lives in Dublin.

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Bullfighting 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ZyskoKid More than 1 year ago
You can breeze through this collection of Roddy Doyle short stories, but why not take your time with each and savor the flavor of Dublin today. I love how Doyle has matured in his subject matter but kept his writing style. You can almost imagine the boys from "The Commitments" are grown up and facing the challenges of middle-age and beyond. "Bullfighting" has some funny, funny dialogue between husbands and wives and the kind of banter between pals that will make you think Doyle sat at a bar recording conversations you and your friends might have had, with an Irish twist, of course. While the humor is the foam rising to the top of Doyle's literary brew, there's the dark of a Guinness underlying the stories. Loneliness, second-guessing one's life choices, feeling of no value, wondering about loving -- and especially fear about not being loved back. Doyle also doesn't sugarcoat Ireland's unemployment problem; it's a recurring trait of his characters. But the somber or melancholy tones are blended so nicely with the comedic slice-of-life vignettes that readers -- like Doyle's middle-aged men -- tend to push the worries aside to laugh. And anyone who's ever buried a family pet will love the story titled "Animals." Catch this excerpt: "The animals always had decent, elaborate burials. Christian, Hindu, Humanist -- whatever bits of knowledge and sh*** the kids brought home from school went into the funerals. George changed mobile phones, not because he really wanted to, but because he knew the boxes would come in handy - it was always wise to have a coffin ready for the next dead bird or fish." The whole story is just as funny, but the magic that Doyle saves for the end of "Animals" is worth the price of the entire book.