A contemporary children’s classic
Once in a while, just once in a while, along comes a children’s book that is as much fun for the child it aimed at as for as her parents.
Roddy Doyle’s triumphant new novel, Greyhound Of A Girl, is that rare thing.
Doyle, one of Ireland’s greatest living writers, has previously written several books for children. But Greyhound Of A Girl is quite something else. Dominated by four generations of women (men make rare appearances in the novel), it is a moving, elegiac exploration of ageing and mortality, of family and enduring love. And, as always with Doyle, it is often very funny indeed.
The four women (or three women and a girl, or one ghost, two women and a girl – take your pick) are 12-year-old Mary O’Hara, her mother, Scarlett, her grandmother, Emer (who lies dying in hospital), and her great-grandmother, Tansey (who pops up one evening as a fully-fledged ghost).
Tansey, who died when Emer was a small child, wants to pass on a message to Emer as she hovers on the brink of death, and enlists the help of Scarlett and Mary. Tansey is a persuasive creation, wry, amusing and worldly wise (after such a long stretch spent outside the world as we know it). But while she steals several of the novel’s scenes, Emer, Scarlett and Mary are all exceptionally strong characters.
Doyle’s dialogue is as razor sharp as ever, crackling with quick wit and ready repartee. For an adult as much as for a child, that is one of the novel’s most enjoyable qualities.
In the final third of the book, the four women take a night-long road trip from Dublin to Wexford to see the house in which Tansey and Emer used to live. It is an excavation of the past, and it yields rich treasures, offering us laughter through a veil of tears.
Greyhound Of A Girl is luminous and poignant. It is also a tribute to the redemptive quality of love. If you have a child who reads, get her this novel.
Here is an interview in which Doyle talks about the creation of the novel.
And here he is, reading from the book, and answering questions from young fans.