The Language of Friendship, as Heard in a Dublin Pub

The Language of Friendship, as Heard in a Dublin Pub

The Language of Friendship, as Heard in a Dublin Pub

The Language of Friendship, as Heard in a Dublin Pub

LOVE
By Roddy Doyle

When I tell you that Roddy Doyle’s new novel, “Love,” is about two 50-ish men talking well-oiled talk in a pub, you’ll say you’ve heard that one before. You haven’t. When I tell you that the novel isn’t so much about what happens, or happened once upon a time, as it is about the mystically inaccurate nature of language, you’ll say you learned that lesson long ago. You didn’t, at least not the way Doyle spins it. When I tell you that in spite of these familiarities, you’ll wind up caring about a bond that seems to rely mainly on words, you’ll say you won’t. You will.

But it takes a while, because the friendship of the narrator, Davy, and his lifelong drinking buddy, Joe, appears at first to be rooted only in bar chatter. Davy has returned to Dublin to visit his dying father, leaving his wife, Faye, behind in England. Joe has recently left his wife for Jessica, whom both men coveted when they were young. They talk and talk, these two, unknowingly testing the philosopher Stanley Cavell’s proposition “Must we mean what we say?” Cavell said yes. But how to hear the silences, too, Davy wonders, “the things we say and don’t say”? That their talk continually swerves from hilarity to dead seriousness does not make it easier to tell what either man means.

And hilarity and seriousness work back to back. When this novel is funny, it’s seriously funny, as when Davy asks Joe if his children look like him: Joe answers, “A bit,” but adds that if you’re looking for visual similarities, everyone kind of looks like everyone else. He tells Davy to pull up a picture of Whitney Houston on his phone, and they’ll find something that makes her look like the barman. The barman’s forehead, for example. “OK,” Davy says. “That’s Whitney’s.”

Yet no more than a page later, they’re no-joke speculating as to whether Joe is the father of Jessica’s grown-up son. Does he look like him? Appearance menaces reality. Words, words, words. “Does she say you’re the father?” Davy asks. “Not in so many words,” Joe replies, confounding himself. “The words are letting me down.”


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