"It's his bravest novel yet; it's also, by far, his best." -- npr.org
“The closest thing he’s written to a psychological thriller."– The New York Times Book Review
Just moved into a new apartment, alone for the first time in years, Victor Forde goes every evening to Donnelly’s for a pint, a slow one. One evening his drink is interrupted. A man in shorts and a pink shirt comes over and sits down. He seems to know Victor’s name and to remember him from secondary school. His name is Fitzpatrick.
Victor dislikes him on sight, dislikes, too, the memories that Fitzpatrick stirs up of five years being taught by the Christian Brothers. He prompts other memories—of Rachel, his beautiful wife who became a celebrity, and of Victor’s own small claim to fame, as the man who would say the unsayable on the radio. But it’s the memories of school, and of one particular brother, that Victor cannot control and which eventually threaten to destroy his sanity.
Smile has all the features for which Roddy Doyle has become famous: the razor-sharp dialogue, the humor, the superb evocation of adolescence, but this is a novel unlike any he has written before. When you finish the last page you will have been challenged to reevaluate everything you think you remember so clearly.
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I looked up when I heard my name but I couldn’t see a thing. I was sitting near the open door and the light coming through was a solid sheet between me and whoever had spoken. My eyes were watering a bit – they did that. I often felt that they were melting slowly in my head.
—Am I right?
It was a man. My own age, judging by the shape, the black block he was making in front of me now, and the slight rattle of middle age in his voice.
I put the cover over the screen of my iPad. I’d been looking at my wife’s Facebook page.
I could see him now. There were two men on the path outside, smoking, and they’d stood together in the way of the sun.
I didn’t know him.
—Yes, I said.
—I thought so, he said.—Jesus. For fuck sake.
I didn’t know what to do.
—It must be – fuckin’ – forty years, he said.— Thirty- seven or -eight, anyway. You haven’t changed enough, Victor. It’s not fair, so it isn’t. Mind if I join you? I don’t want to interrupt anything.
He sat on a stool in front of me.
—Just say and I’ll fuck off.
Our knees almost touched. He was wearing shorts, the ones with the pockets on the sides for shotgun shells and dead rabbits.
—Victor Foreman, he said.
—That’s right, he said.— Forde.
I had no idea who he was. Thirty- eight years, he’d said; we’d have known each other in secondary school. But I couldn’t see a younger version of this man. I didn’t like him. I knew that, immediately.
—What was the name of the Brother that used to fancy you? he said.
He patted the table.
—What was his fuckin’ name?
His shirt was pink and I could tell that it had cost a few quid. But there was something about it, or the way it sat on him; it hadn’t always been his.
—Murphy, he said.—Am I right?
—There were two Murphys, I said.
—History and French.
—Were they not the same cunt?
I shook my head.
—Jesus, he said.—I hate that. The memory. It’s like dropping bits of yourself as you go along, isn’t it?
I didn’t answer. I have a good memory – or I thought I did. I still didn’t know who he was.
He moved, and put one foot on top of a knee. I could see right up one leg of his shorts.
—Anyway, he said.—It was the one who taught French that wanted your arse. Am I right?
I wanted to hit him. I wanted to kill him. I could feel the glass ashtray that wasn’t there any more, that hadn’t been on the table since the introduction of the smoking ban a decade before – I could feel its weight in my hand and arm as I lifted it, and myself, and brought it flat down on his head.
I looked to see if anyone had been listening to him. I could hear the remains of the word ‘arse’ roll across the room. I hated this man, whoever he was.
But I nodded.
—Fuckin’ gas, he said.—And look at us now. Would he fancy us now, Victor?
—Not me, anyway, he said.
He slapped his stomach.
—You’re not looking too bad, he said.
His accent was right; he came from nearby. He took a slurp from his pint – it was Heineken or Carlsberg – and put the glass back on the table.
—You’ve done alright, Victor, he said.—Haven’t you?
I couldn’t answer.
—For yourself, like, he said.—I see your name all over the place.
I wanted to go.
—You did great, he said.—We’re fuckin’ proud of you.
I wanted to move house, get back across the river. Home.
—Victor Forde, he said.—One of us.
A minute before he’d thought my name was Foreman.
—You married that bird, he said.
I shouldn’t have, but I nodded again.
—Fuckin’ hell, he said.—Good man. There’s no end to your fuckin’ achievements.
—Who are you? I asked.
He stared and smiled at the same time.
—Are you serious?
—I know your face, I said.
He laughed. Straight at me.
—My fuckin’ face? he said.—Jesus. I was – what? – seventeen. The last time you saw me. Am I right?
I didn’t know – I didn’t know him. But I nodded.
—Will I give you a hint?
I didn’t nod this time.
—Síle Fitzpatrick, he said.
The name meant nothing.
—Go on – fuck off. —I don’t know her.
—Síle. Fitz. Patrick.
—You fuckin’ do, he said.—Wake up, Victor. Síle. You fancied her. Big time. All of you did. She was a bike. Síle Fitzpatrick. She was the bike. Yis all said it.
I hadn’t heard that phrase, ‘a bike’, in years. It was like a piece of history being taken out and shown to me. A slightly uncomfortable piece of history.
—No, I said.
—Blonde bird, tall, Holy Faith, Bowie fan, woman’s tits.
She was starting to come together; I thought I was remembering someone.
—You all fancied her, he said again.
—And you didn’t?
—Well, I did. But I couldn’t.
—She was my sister, he said.
The laugh exploded out of him, as if he’d been holding on to it for years. There was nothing funny in it. The girl was in my head now, Síle Fitzpatrick, but I wished she wasn’t. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t know her. But I could see her sitting on the low ledge outside the chipper, her back to the glass. I was inside, looking at her hair, her shoulders, her white uniform shirt tucked into her skirt. I wanted her to turn and look in. I wanted her to look at me.
—You remember me now, I bet.
I didn’t. But I remembered his sister.
—Yeah, I said.—I do now. Sorry.
What was his name? He’d been in my class for five years; he must have been. Fitzpatrick, Fitzpatrick.
I had it.
—Good man, he said.
I knew him, and I’d known him years ago. I knew his face and I’d known his face.
—Eddie, I said.
—I kind of prefer Ed these days, he said.—More adult.
—Finally had to grow up, he said.
What he’d told me just before he’d laughed – one of the words came back and nudged me.
—You said ‘was’. You said she was your sister.
—Yeah, he said.
—Was, I said.
— Sorry – , I said.—I don’t – . She’s not – ?
—No, he said.—No. We’re not close, just.
—Say no more, says you.
The gap was beginning to close. ‘Say no more, squire’ – the Monty Python line was straight from the schooldays.
—You meeting someone? he asked me now. —No, I said.—No. Just having a pint.
—Same as myself. D’you live near here, so?
I hesitated. I didn’t want to explain.
—Or just visiting? he said.—Slumming it for a bit.
—I live down the road there – five minutes.
—Oh grand, he said.—So this is your local.
—Fuck this, he said.
He stood up and picked up his stool; he’d scooped it from under himself before he was upright. I didn’t have time to cower. But he turned to the table beside us and lowered the stool one- handed while he grabbed a chair with the other and dragged it across to him. He sat down, and back.
There was even more of his leg on show now. He didn’t seem to be wearing underwear.
—So, he said.—Yeah.
—I was away myself for a bit, he said.
—Yeah, he said.—Here and there. Nothing special. But Síle. She’d love to hear from you.
He’d guessed it: Síle was the only thing I liked about him.
—I hardly knew her, I said.
—Go on to fuck.
—Yeah, yeah, he said.—She fancied you. Big time. Had me plagued. Is he going to college? What’s his favourite Bowie song? Is he going with anyone? A right pain in the arse.
—‘Heroes’, I said.
—My favourite Bowie song.
He laughed. He sat back, almost lay back, and barked at the ceiling. There was grey pubic hair poking out of his shorts. He sat up, adjusted his crotch. Had he caught me looking at him?
—D’you know what? he said.—I’d say she’d still be interested in knowing that.
—Síle, he said.—She’d love to know that ‘Heroes’ was your favourite Bowie song. I don’t believe that, by the way. Now maybe, but we’re talking about – when? 1975 or ’6. ‘Heroes’ was released in 1977. So you’re spoofing. As usual. You can fuck off, so you can. Vict’ry.
I should have stood up.
—Remember we used to call you that? he said.
I should have just left. He might have followed me but I should have walked out and kept walking. I’d have been giving nothing away. Because I found out later, he already knew where I lived.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Smile by Roddy Doyle is a very highly recommended excellent novel about a man examining his life and the uncertainty of memory. Victor Forde, 54, is a failed writer who is looking for a local pub that he can call his regular place. After his recent separation from his famous wife, Rachel, he has returned to his hometown and rented a cheap apartment. Now he simply wants a quiet place where he can have a slow pint at night. He's decided on Donnelly's. Then a man called Fitzpatrick shows up there, sits next to him, and immediately claims to know Victor from secondary school. Victor doesn't recall the man at all and , in fact, dislikes him on sight. As he finds a group of regulars to sit with at Donnelly's, what Victor tries to do is avoid Fitzpatrick at all costs. The man acts like they are best friends, but, as he reviews his life, Victor seems to be afraid of what Fitzpatrick might reveal. Fitzpatrick seems to know a lot about Victor, but Victor cannot remember him at all. What Victor does is begin to reminisce on events from his past. He looks back at his life as a rock critic and political journalist. He recalls when he met Rachel and her rise to fame. He recollects the radio programs where he was invited to speak on controversial issues. But he especially begins to remember his years being taught by the brothers at St. Martin's Christian Brothers School, especially one brother. Doyle brings all of his considerable, skillful writing ability to bear here and the result is stunning. Smile may not evoke any mirth the title implies, but this is a memorable, tenacious, and daring psychological mystery. the ending will have even the most careful reader take pause and reexamine everything they have just read. This is an exceptional novel that begs the reader to question how we recall our own memories of events that have occurred in our lives. Most of the novel is written in flashbacks. Not much can be written about the ending, but it will shock and disturb you. Smile is nothing like any other novel by Doyle I've read, and yet it is remarkable. It also makes Smile a novel that is quite unforgettable. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House