Praise for Life Without Children:
“[Doyle has] a facility for creating characters out of thin air and making them stick. Not to mention the sly humor, the ability to hew to the fine line between pathos and bathos and write unsentimentally about sad people and situations, and the gift for quicksilver dialogue that can sound like a poetic form of vernacular speech . . . When you put these together with Doyle’s broad range [...] you’re left feeling close to dazzled . . . he imparts a sense of poignancy and glimpses of happiness, of grief and loss and small moments of connection.” —Daphne Merkin, The New York Times Book Review
“Doyle’s brilliance probably shines brightest in life with children—which may give added poignancy to these lives from which children are missing, lost or launched. But Doyle’s other extravagant gift, a way with speech, does have its moments here, often in significant exchanges recalled but more generally in the conversational knack of the narration.” —The Washington Post
“There is an immediacy in the stories in Life Without Children, an emotional charge that comes with writing in real time, and an optimism too. In the stripping away of everyday anxieties, the virus reveals what matters most, those qualities that are always at the heart of Doyle’s fiction: love and connection, however clumsily expressed . . . more than anything, these stories are about the vital importance of communicating with one another before it’s too late.” —The Guardian
“Life Without Children provides evidence that the short story, with its contained scope and drive, is the best way to convey how intensely individuals have struggled with COVID-19 and its global ramifications . . . [Doyle] is the right writer for this job because he can take a worldwide event and distill it into a delicious fruit drink or a pint of properly pulled stout—if not a world in a glass then at least a full experience . . . a tasty batch of stories.” —Los Angeles Times
“A gifted Dublin writer takes on the pandemic, in moving, funny stories . . . this book is wry and poignant . . . in Life Without Children, the pandemic is just a supporting player. The stars are Doyle's palpably authentic characters.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A moving portrayal of our lives amid the ongoing pandemic . . . While the book centers on loss and struggle, there are plenty of laughs and inspiring moments.” —Men’s Journal
“Each external natural or economic catastrophe creates an internal conflict within Doyle’s characters that is classical and sometimes Shakespearean.” —America Magazine
“The pandemic haunts these stories, rarely taking center stage but always felt, always making everything unsteady, unreal, displaced, weirdly familiar/unfamiliar . . . They cut so close to the bone of the way we live now . . . Doyle is too smart to make COVID merely a crude metaphor for private domestic suffering, but he’s bold enough to use it to amplify personal anguish . . . If anyone asks you, months or years from now, what was it like, make them read Life Without Children. It’s an honest record.” —Daily Beast
“Full of drama and pathos—bringing us humor and love amid the gloom . . . Roddy Doyle, the undisputed laureate of ordinary lives, has just delivered a quietly devastating collection of short stories that brilliantly portrays the pervasive sense of hopelessness that immobilized us during the dog days of Covid . . . Doyle breaks our free fall into despair by emphasizing the redemptive power of humor, love and the kindness of strangers. Silver linings have been hard to find lately, but in Life Without Children Doyle has given us just that.” —The Sunday Times
“Doyle’s superb stories, set in the pandemic, pinpoint the joys and sorrows of people in their 60s . . . Doyle’s greatest gift has always been for dialogue. He can command the full range of Irish voices and registers . . . Doyle does not abhor sentimentality. A single sentence, a brief exchange, can raise a laugh and a lump in the throat . . . The wisdom in Doyle’s writing is the wisdom of this acknowledgement: that to wish to be free of everything that makes one prey to sentimentality and cliché (the love of one’s children chief among them) is to wish to be free of what makes fiction possible.” —The Telegraph
“These 10 simmering, inward-looking tales, set in Ireland in the midst of lockdown, turn the roiling psychic turmoil induced by the pandemic into a timely and yet timeless form of domestic drama. All variety of fissures, in relationships, in marriages, and in individual personalities, crack to the surface, as alternately befuddled, quietly desperate, and sometimes tender men and women attempt to deal with a new kind of dailiness, oppressive as much for its ordinariness as its lurking horror . . . But amid the slow disintegration and abrupt cessation of old lives, there is always the sustaining black humor that is ever at the heart of Doyle's fiction.” —Booklist
“Doyle’s accomplished collection probes the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on a series of marriages . . . A master of dialogue—whether strained, deceptive, or free-flowing—Doyle has a keen eye for the interconnectedness and the criticality of communication, which makes these stories shimmer. Doyle’s raw portrayal of living and loving under lockdown has a deep resonance.” —Publishers Weekly
In each of these 10 stories we enter a life and a marriage—either intact, fraying, or sundered—within which the various and frequently unexpected effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on Irish society are depicted with irresistible irreverence.
From the first story to the last, this instantly engaging chronicle of life during the pandemic lockdown in Ireland resonates with the voices of ordinary Dubliners who are enduring—and in an odd way relishing—the unprecedented social restrictions and upheaval that, in some cases, deliver hidden freedoms. “It was a decision,” a woman says of fleeing her suburban existence in "Gone." “Just, I hadn’t packed a bag...or thought about what I’d need to take....But when I heard the word. Lockdown. I was out of the house. Out of that life. I shut the door after me.” Alan in "Life Without Children," like most characters here, has reached the crisis age when the children are grown and gone, his parents are dead, and now he is “the oldest person he knew well,” a fact that “pleased him and kept him awake.” His wife leaves him, and he leaves his previous life to enter a more precarious one, as does each of the protagonists here, mostly by accident. A father walks the Dublin streets looking for the son he has driven away with his cruelty. A husband falls in love with his wife after decades of marriage only to face the terror of almost losing her to Covid-19. A son cruelly treated by his dying mother, ostracized by his family, and still drunk on the morning of the funeral he cannot attend tries to make sense of his kitchen, the contents of his fridge, the family pet: “He won’t be falling over again. He looked down at the dog, at his feet. —That right, Jim?” Humor of every shade, from near-slapstick to keen satire, prevents the collection’s moments of emotional insight from congealing into sentimentality. And Dublin itself, the broad streets and the even broader range of its natives’ speech—so pungent and quick—has rarely been so deftly captured.
A moving and quick-witted portrait of Dublin lives under lockdown.