Oh, Play That Thing

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Overview

Henry Smart is on the run. Fleeing from his Republican paymasters, the men for whom he committed murder and mayhem, he has left behind his wife, Miss O'Shea, in a Dublin jail, and his infant daughter. When he lands in America, it's 1924, and New York is the center of the universe. Henry, ever resourceful, a pearl gray fedora parked on his head, has a sandwich board and a hidden stash of hooch for the speakeasies of the Lower East Side. When he starts hiring kids to carry boards for him, he catches the attention ...
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Slight rubbing to dust jacket. In Oh, Play That Thing, Roddy Doyle once again gives us a prodigious, energetic, sexy novel, rich with language and music and, as Henry makes his ... way across America, teeming with surprises. It is both a saga unto itself full of epic adventures, breathless escapes, and star- crossed love and a magnificent follow-up to A Star Called Henry. Doyle's writing to a new level. Read more Show Less

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Oh, Play That Thing

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Overview

Henry Smart is on the run. Fleeing from his Republican paymasters, the men for whom he committed murder and mayhem, he has left behind his wife, Miss O'Shea, in a Dublin jail, and his infant daughter. When he lands in America, it's 1924, and New York is the center of the universe. Henry, ever resourceful, a pearl gray fedora parked on his head, has a sandwich board and a hidden stash of hooch for the speakeasies of the Lower East Side. When he starts hiring kids to carry boards for him, he catches the attention of the mobsters who run the district. It is time to leave, for another, newer America.

In Chicago there is no past waiting to jump on Henry. Music is everywhere, in the streets, in nightclubs, on phonograph records: furious, wild, happy music played by a man with a trumpet and bleeding lips called Louis Armstrong. But Armstrong is a prisoner of his color, and the mob is in Chicago too: they own every stage—and they own the man up on the stage. Armstrong needs a man, a white man, and the man he chooses is Henry Smart.

In Oh, Play That Thing, Roddy Doyle once again gives us a prodigious, energetic, sexy novel, rich with language and music and, as Henry makes his way across America, teeming with surprises. It is both a saga unto itself—full of epic adventures, breathless escapes, and star- crossed love—and a magnificent follow-up to A Star Called Henry. Doyle's writing to a new level. (The New York Times Book Review) Post) intimate authenticity of a poet. (Boston Sunday Globe) don't want to end. (Seattle Times)

Author Biography: Roddy Doyle is the author of six previous novels, including a Booker Prize finalist, The Van, and a Booker Prize-winning international bestseller, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. He has also written several screenplays and books for children.

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Editorial Reviews

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Together, A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing constitute one of the most remarkable achievements in recent Irish and American literature. And we’re left with the tantalizing possibility of a third novel to follow.
Boston Phoenix
Oh, Play That Thing chronicles the birth of the American century, from the shores of Ellis Island through the Jazz Age and into the Great Depression. Doyle’s characters are too lively-too full-blooded and lusty-to be mere ciphers, and the Booker Prize-winning author gets the feel of things-jazz, regret, memory-right.
Chicago Sun-Times
Written in a combo jazzed-up sassy poetry-rhythms part Irish, part New York street, part Chicago South Side blues This is Doyle’s rambunctious tale of the 20th century’s immigrant America.
Philadelphia Weekly
Vibrant, punchy images come in quick succession, evoking city streets teeming with life and possibility like the gritty poetics of John Dos Passos.
New York Daily News
Doyle can make music come alive like no one else. His prose will bop and bang its head to punk or bump and grind to the blues. And he understands that becoming an American-whether you’re black or Irish-is a game of improvisation, just like jazz.
Rocky Mountain News
A sprawling tale steeped in the grit, lawlessness and hardships of the early 1900s it all unfolds in Doyle’s bold, vivid writing that, at its best, echoes the adventure and rhythm of jazz. By the end, he has us hooked, racing for the finish to a book we wish wouldn’t end and eager for the final installment.
Publishers Weekly
Doyle stumbles somewhat in this sequel to his excellent 1999 bestseller, A Star Called Henry. Beginning with Irish revolutionary Henry Smart's arrival in New York City in 1924, the story follows Henry's subsequent adventures in advertising, bootlegging, pornography, unlicensed dentistry and keeping ahead of the former associates who'd like to see him eat a lead sandwich. After encroaching too much on a mobster's turf-and getting lucky with another powerful fellow's kept lady-Henry hightails it to Chicago, where he becomes the unofficial manager of a young Louis Armstrong. Though serendipitously reunited with his beloved wife and the daughter he's never met while trying to rob her employer's house, Henry soon heads back to New York to help Louis make it big. While just as brash and lively as Doyle's earlier novels, this one isn't nearly as focused; the dialogue-heavy narrative is interspersed with shifts in setting, time and plot, and characters appear and disappear with little consequence, their spoken parts hasty, repetitive and often perplexing. Worse, Doyle takes Henry Smart's charm for granted; readers unfamiliar with his previous adventures may roll their eyes at his arrogance and incessant sexual encounters. There's just too much material; any of the novel's numerous strands could have been fleshed out into its own book. That said, the novel is still a lot of improbable fun. Agent, John Sutton. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A Star Called Henry returns, remaking himself as a bon vivant American. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Terrorist Henry Smart, the memorable IRA antihero of Doyle's superb sixth novel (A Star Called Henry, 1999) makes an imperfect conquest of America in this widely ranging sequel. We pick up Henry's story in 1924, after his arrival in New York City (just ahead of gunmen assigned to kill him) and entry into the criminal underclass as an "advertising" impresario employing sandwich-board bearers. Still pining for the wife left behind, whom he knew only as "Miss O'Shea" (she having been his teacher), Henry-a strapping 23-year-old few women can resist-finds substitutes, and reasons to head west after he has infringed on mobster Louis Lepke's turf and pleasured himself with the mistress of Hibernian-immigrant bootlegger Owney Madden. In Chicago, Henry discovers the "furious, happy and lethal" newly popular music called jazz, and bonds-rather unbelievably-with the young Louis Armstrong, who makes Henry (amusingly addressed as "O'Pops") his de facto "white manager." If you think this is beginning to sound like Forrest Gump, read on. Briefly and improbably reunited with Miss O'Shea and the daughter (Saoirse) he's never seen, Henry follows the embattled (and unemployable) Armstrong to Harlem, meets gangster-nightclub owner Dutch Schultz, and reconnects with a resourceful whore who has reinvented herself as "Sister Flo" (an evangelist of the Aimee Semple McPherson variety), soon thereafter leaving Louis's employ and moving on to LA. Surviving an encounter with a Dublin hit man, Henry rides the rails during the Depression years, loses a leg along with his family (one more time, as jazzmen say), and ends up in California in 1946, schmoozing with filmmaker John Ford, who vows his next movie will tell"the real Irish story": i.e., Henry's. A surprising amount of this nonsense is quite absorbing, because Booker-winner Doyle is too lively and skilled a novelist to let it be otherwise. But Oh, Play That Thing is fatally overstuffed and chaotic. An uncharacteristic misstep in a brilliant writer's estimable career.
From the Publisher
“Hugely, unremittingly entertaining…. And stylistically, in terms of sheer authority, Doyle’s authority, Doyle’s novel is a triumph of voice and rhythm, of accent, attitude and pizzazz.”
The Scotsman (UK)

“Easily the most sustained and moving piece of fiction Doyle has ever written.”
The Dublin Evening Herald (UK)

“You can’t put Oh, Play That Thing down. It has this insane energy.”
The Edmonton Journal

“The Irish author has indeed gotten better with each novel he writes. . . . Doyle takes his riskiest step yet: He leaves Ireland altogether for 1920s America. The risk pays of handsomely.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Doyle appears to be incapable of writing a bad novel. . . . Oh, Play That Thing is a coup of imagination and verve.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Doyle has a legendarily good way with words. . . . Oh, Play That Thing is a celebration of unanchored storytelling, like a jazz musician who’s taken a 12-bar solo.”
National Post

“For its ambition alone, and for its estimable feat of casting the great Satchmo in a compelling new light, Oh, Play That Thing shouldn’t be missed.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“As engrossing and stimulating as listening to a classically trained musician improvise a jazz combo. It’s both familiar and strange and that is what keeps your senses jumping as you are turning the pages. Shaking up readers’ expectations is a good and necessary thing.”
The Globe and Mail

“In prose that echoes the syncopated beat of the Jazz Age itself, Doyle brings Henry as well as Armstrong and his music to vibrant life. Oh, read this thing.”
People

Praise for A Star Called Henry,
Volume One of The Last Roundup Trilogy:

“With A Star Called Henry, Doyle has put all of his prodigious gifts into a single character. . . . A Star Called Henry is a startling achievement. . .and a worm’s-eye view of Irish history. A grand thing of beauty.”
—A Globe and Mail Best Book of ’99

“Doyle gives us the delightful Henry Smart, a kind of Irish Huck Finn, dirt poor by birth, strong and handsome by good fortune, charming and resourceful by necessity. . . . [Doyle’s] mastery of voice and observed experience is a rare gift.”
Ottawa Citizen

“Maybe the Great American Novel remains to be written, but on the evidence of its first installment, this is the epic Irish one, created at a high pitch of eloquence.”
Publishers Weekly

“In other, less forgiving climes (say, the Soviet Union), Doyle would be put on a cattle truck and sent away. For ever. There is no higher praise, I believe, than to say a book is that dangerous. I can also say that here, for once, that most overused of terms is applicable: this really is a masterpiece.”
The Irish Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670033614
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/4/2004
  • Series: Last Roundup Series , #2
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin, Ireland. He attended St. Fintan’s Christian Brothers School and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from University College. For fourteen years he worked as an English and geography teacher in Kilbarrack, North Dublin, and his students provided inspiration for his first published novel, The Commitments. When Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize in 1993 while he was still in his thirties, he dedicated himself to writing full-time. After writing from nine to five each day, he spends his evenings with his wife and kids, “because it’s what I love to do.”

He achieved widespread recognition when The Commitments, about a young working-class Dubliner who organizes a soul band, was made into a hugely popular film in 1991 by Alan Parker. However, Doyle had first published the book himself in 1987 because he didn’t feel The Commitments fit in with other books coming out at the time; convinced it would be rejected, he and a friend figured out how much it would cost to publish it themselves – the same as a good second-hand car – and got a bank loan.

Meanwhile he got a lucky break when his first play, Brown Bread, was produced by a theatre group and staged at a large venue. The Commitments sold a few thousand copies and got a lot of attention because of a good cover and what Doyle calls an “arrogant” press release, but didn’t sell in big numbers. Then two Dublin writers gave the book to friends of film director Alan Parker in Los Angeles and he liked it; the film came out three years later. The book was picked up by a British publisher, and from then on his work would gain international acclaim and success.

The Commitments and his next two novels, known as the Barrytown Trilogy after the north Dublin estate modelled on Kilbarrack where they are set, focus on the Rabbittes, a family whose lives are a mixture of comedy, depressing poverty and domestic chaos. The second book, The Snapper, concerns the relationship between Jimmy and his eldest daughter when she becomes pregnant and faces becoming a single mother. Irish author Maeve Binchy called it “the most amazing account of a pregnancy ever written.” The Van focuses on a middle-aged man facing the loneliness and shame of unemployment and his effort to raise himself out of it by buying a rundown van to sell fish and chips from as the Irish soccer team wins its way into the finals of the World Cup. The Van was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1991 and all three books were made into films.

Doyle’s next novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, about a ten-year-old boy who watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate, won him the Booker Prize, Britain’s highest literary award in 1993. It is the most commercially successful Booker winner to date and is now available in nineteen languages. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, about an abused wife, was published three years later. Like the Barrytown Trilogy, both novels focus on families, which Doyle says is natural since it’s common in Ireland to live with your family right up to your mid-twenties and not stray far when you move out. “I’ve always lived within about three miles from where I was born.”

His work often involves brutality and violence. A Star Called Henry, the first installment of the Last Roundup Trilogy, was no exception. It encompasses the 1916 Rebellion and sectarian violence, something both Doyle’s grandparents would likely have been involved in. It received the best reviews he has ever had.

Doyle writes rowdy novels, full of Dublin vernacular and cursing so vibrant and charged that it is almost musical, vulgarity turned to poetry. His characters often fail but are survivors; their lives are tough, but beauty, dignity and tenderness prevail. He’s been called one of the great Dublin working class writers, but his work speaks to people all over the world. “What I try to do with my stories is take universal issues and set them in a couple of square fictional miles in Dublin.”

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Read an Excerpt

I could bury myself in New York. I could see that from the boat as it went under the Statue of Liberty on a cold dawn that grew quickly behind me and shoved the fog off the slate-coloured water. That was Manhattan, already towering over me. It made tiny things of the people around me, all gawking at the manmade cliffs, and the ranks of even higher cliffs behind them, stretching forever into America and stopping their entry. I could see the terror in their eyes.

I could stare into the eyes without fear of recognition. They weren’t Irish faces and it wasn’t Irish muck on the hems of their greatcoats. Those coats had been dragged across Europe. They were families, three and four generations of them; the Irish travelled alone. There were the ancient women, their faces collapsed and vicious, clutching bags they’d carried across the continent, full of string and eggshells and stones from the walls of lost houses. And their husbands behind them, hidden by beards, their eyes still young and fighting. They guarded the cases and boxes at their feet. And their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, under embroidered scarves and black caps, and younger children still, and pregnant girls with scrawny boys standing and sitting beside them, all cowed by the approaching city cliffs. Even the youngest sensed that their excitement was unwanted and stayed silent, as the Reliance sent small waves against Bedloe’s Island and the big stone American woman – send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me – as their parents and grandparents shivered at the new world and tried to know if they were looking at its front or back. I was the only man alone, the only man not afraid of what was growing up in front of us. This was where a man could disappear, could die if he wanted to, and come back to quick, big life.

I had arrived.

But we turned from Manhattan and sailed, almost back into the night, towards the New Jersey shore. And the silence around me fell deeper as the island crept up in front of us. The last few square feet of the old, cruel world, the same name in all the languages on board as we were pulled closer and closer, isola delle lagrime, Tränen Insel, the isle of tears. Ellis Island.

Hundreds of shuffling feet trapped under the vaulted ceiling of the great hall, the air was full of the whispers of the millions who’d passed through, the cries of the thousands who’d been stopped and sent back. I listened for the tap of a famous leg, but I heard none. Old men tried to straighten long-crooked backs and mothers rubbed rough colour into the white cheeks of their children. Wild men ran fingers through long beards and regretted that they hadn’t shaved before they’d disembarked. Jewish women caressed sons’ ringlets and tried to push them under hats. Fragments of new language were tried, and passed from mouth to mouth.

—Yes, sir.

—No, sir.

—My cousin, he have a house.

—I am a farmer.

—Qu-eeeens.

The medical inspector stared into my eyes. I knew what he was looking for. I’d been told all about it, by a lame and wheezy anarchist who was making his seventh try at landing.

—They see the limp but never the brain, he’d said. —The fools. When they confront the fact that I am too dangerous for their country, then I will happily turn my back on it. But, until then, I commute between Southampton and their Ellis Island.

—If you could afford first or second class, I told him, —you wouldn’t have to set foot on the island.

—You think I am not aware of this? he said. —I can afford it. But I won’t afford it.

The inspector was looking for signs of trachoma in my eyes, and for madness behind them. He couldn’t stare for long – no one could; he saw nothing that was going to send me back. To my left, another inspector drew a large L on a shoulder with a brand new piece of chalk. L was for lung. I knew the signs; I’d been seeing them all my life. The man with the brand new L had already given up. He collapsed and coughed out most of his remaining life. He had to be carried away. An E on the shoulder meant bad eyes, another L meant lameness. And behind those letters, other hidden letters, never chalked onto shoulders: J for too Jewish, C for Chinese, SE, too far south and east of Budapest. H was for heart, SC was for scalp, X was for mental.

And H was for handsome.

The guards stood back and I walked the few steps to the next desk. I let my heels clip the Spanish tiles. Two beautiful sisters held each other as they were pushed back. Without parents or children they were too likely to fall into bad hands waiting for them on the Manhattan or New Jersey wharfs. If they were lucky they’d be kept on the island until relatives were found to take them; less lucky, they’d be pawed, then let through; less lucky still, they’d be deported, sent back before they’d arrived.

I handed my passport and papers to the Immigration Bureau officer. He opened the passport and found the ten-dollar note I’d left in its centre. The note was gone before I saw it missing. I’d taken it from the wheezy anarchist; its loss didn’t sting. Then came the catechism, the questions I couldn’t get wrong.

—What is your name?

—Henry Drake.

—Where are you from?

—London.

—Why have you come to the United States?

—Opportunity.

So far, so easy.

But he stopped. He looked at me.

—Where are you travelling from, sir? he asked me.

It wasn’t one of the questions.

—London, I said.

He seemed to be staring at the word as I spoke it.

—You are a born Englishman, sir?

He read my latest name.

—Mister Drake?

—Yes.

—Henry Drake.

—Yes.

—And where is Missis Drake, sir?

—She’s in my dreams.

—So you’re travelling alone, sir, is that right? You are an unmarried man.

—That’s right.

—And how do you intend supporting yourself, sir?

We were back on track.

—By working very hard.

—Yes, and how, sir?

—I’m a salesman.

—And your speciality?

I shrugged.

—Everything, and anything.

—Alright. And do you have sufficient funds to sustain you until you commence selling everything?

—I do.

He handed me a sheet of paper.

—Could you read this for me, sir?

—We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union—

And as I strolled through the literacy test, I could feel Victor, my brother, beside me, his leg pressed against mine in the school desk, and Miss O’Shea at my shoulder, my teacher and wife, the mother of the daughter I suddenly missed, her wet fingers on my cheek.

—and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of—

He took the paper from my fingers. He picked up a rubber stamp and brought it down on top of a card. I read the stamp: ADMITTED.

—Welcome to America, he said.

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Table of Contents

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Foreword

1. Roddy Doyle says he avoids lengthy descriptions in his books and tries to let the characters speak for themselves. “I’ve always liked brilliant dialogue, in Elmore Leonard, in Flannery O’Connor, anywhere where you can tell as soon as the characters open their mouths where they’re from... I just wanted to record the sound of the talk.” Discuss the voices in Oh, Play That Thing and how well Doyle reveals the interior language of his protagonist.

2. “I love Peter Carey’s book Illywhacker and Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum,” says Roddy Doyle. “These are books that left a very lasting impression on me. And indeed Midnight’s Children and Shame, the Salman Rushdie novels, made a very lasting impression on me. And they may have been at the back of my mind when I was starting this book.” Some people have said Roddy Doyle was telling the history of twentieth-century Ireland in A Star Called Henry, as William Boyd told a story of the twentieth century in Any Human Heart. Discuss the interplay of real history and individual character in Oh, Play That Thing.

3. In A Star Called Henry, Henry Smart is larger than life, and Doyle steps away from the realism of his previous books to experiment with plot. “I wanted impossible things to mix with possible, real and fictional people to shake hands . . . I wanted to have fun. I wanted to go over the top.” While it is not as overtly experimental, would you describe Oh, Play That Thing as over the top, and if so, why and what does this effect achieve?

4. Roddy Doyle has in the pastreceived criticism in Ireland for his raw portrayal of working-class northside Dublin, for giving the country a bad image; especially with a brutally frank film about domestic abuse called The Family, which was watched by half the adult population in Ireland nevertheless. Bearing in mind that one of Doyle’s favourite authors is Elmore Leonard, discuss sex and violence in Oh, Play That Thing.

5. As a child, Roddy Doyle has said he was never a fighter but survived by using humour to save himself. “I used to compose silly songs about people, give them nicknames, things like that.” Discuss his use of language and the sense of humour in this book.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Roddy Doyle says he avoids lengthy descriptions in his books and tries to let the characters speak for themselves. “I’ve always liked brilliant dialogue, in Elmore Leonard, in Flannery O’Connor, anywhere where you can tell as soon as the characters open their mouths where they’re from... I just wanted to record the sound of the talk.” Discuss the voices in Oh, Play That Thing and how well Doyle reveals the interior language of his protagonist.

2. “I love Peter Carey’s book Illywhacker and Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum,” says Roddy Doyle. “These are books that left a very lasting impression on me. And indeed Midnight’s Children and Shame, the Salman Rushdie novels, made a very lasting impression on me. And they may have been at the back of my mind when I was starting this book.” Some people have said Roddy Doyle was telling the history of twentieth-century Ireland in A Star Called Henry, as William Boyd told a story of the twentieth century in Any Human Heart. Discuss the interplay of real history and individual character in Oh, Play That Thing.

3. In A Star Called Henry, Henry Smart is larger than life, and Doyle steps away from the realism of his previous books to experiment with plot. “I wanted impossible things to mix with possible, real and fictional people to shake hands . . . I wanted to have fun. I wanted to go over the top.” While it is not as overtly experimental, would you describe Oh, Play That Thing as over the top, and if so, why and what does this effect achieve?

4. Roddy Doyle has in the past received criticism in Ireland for his raw portrayal of working-class northside Dublin, for giving the country a bad image; especially with a brutally frank film about domestic abuse called The Family, which was watched by half the adult population in Ireland nevertheless. Bearing in mind that one of Doyle’s favourite authors is Elmore Leonard, discuss sex and violence in Oh, Play That Thing.

5. As a child, Roddy Doyle has said he was never a fighter but survived by using humour to save himself. “I used to compose silly songs about people, give them nicknames, things like that.” Discuss his use of language and the sense of humour in this book.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 18, 2011

    Great writing charictors

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2005

    Waste of time

    I read 'Oh, Play That Thing' because I'm a fan of Roddy Doyle and had thoroughly enjoyed 'A Star Called Henry'. The novel plodded along as Henry raced from NY to PA. I had a hard time maintaining my interest but I continued reading. Although I suffered through every little detail of Henry's young life, the last chapter speeded through his later years. The last chapter was absolutely ridiculous and I felt the author, on some kind of a deadline to finish his novel, wrapped up the story in a matter of minutes with unbelievable scenarios. That's a few hours of my time I'll never get back.

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