Pairs Well With: Guinness. It’s what the lads drink. Or Heineken, if you’re more prone to the audacious fits of Fitzpatrick. So, yeah, toss back four pints, just like the lads in Smile, but I guarantee it’s not going to be near enough to help you wash away the sour taste of the revelation that comes. Best have a bottle of Tullamore on hand. Trust me. You’ll need it.

Genre: Literature
Author: Roddy Doyle (audiobook read by Roddy Doyle)
Rating: 2 Out Of 5 Whisky Shots

Synopsis: Victor Ford is a shadow of his former self. A forty-something man with little to look on as success and only now finding some feet to put under himself. He’s a thin man—in makeup, not in stature—and if there’s beer about and a friendly ear, he’ll more than likely tell you all about his woes. And there’s always beer. But there’s never really any friends. Not really. Not until a man who seems to know all about Victor approaches him at the pub. He smiles and tells him they went to school together, “Don’t you remember?” But Victor doesn’t; not at first. The more he digs through his memories, though, the more darkness seems to emerge.

Who is this man who calls himself Victor’s friend? Who is Eddy Fitzpatrick?

Overall Impression: Upfront, no holds barred, without reserve, bare knuckled, chin out, slugging like there’s no tomorrow, I’ll be honest with y’all, it’s a slog getting through this book. Probably the only reason I got all the way through it is because Roddy Doyle himself was the one who narrated the audiobook. His genuine Irish lilt, annunciations, and cadence were a ton of fun to listen to, though the expressiveness was lacking—leaving the entire recording sounding like it was being read by a Gaelic Ben Stein—and it kept me listening through to the end.

All the way to the very very far away end.

All the way to the very irritating, book destroying…

Yeah, it’s work to get through this one, y’all. And not like the David Foster Wallace sort of work. It’s work getting through this because nothing happens. Everything is drawn out, and the charm of it all wears off quickly.

The Cheers: One of the things this book did right was in showcasing the prolonged trauma and mental disease suffered by those who have survived sexual assault and rape. This book doesn’t shy away from it, nor does it paint the survivor of the sexual assault as some stoic strong hero ready to take back their life and deliver inspiring speeches on the stairs of Congress. Nah… The survivor here is shown as broken and confused and as alone as the countless unfortunate souls who find themselves victims of such horrific violations. There is no glitz. There is no underdog story. There’s just pain.

The dialogue is snappy, when it’s there and when it involves the right characters. Too often, I felt like a lot of the characters were melting in a singular individual muttering “Fuck off” over and over, but there are some fun interactions between Victor and Rachel that added a much-needed mood lifting boost.

The Hangover: Right-o. Here it is: the ending undid everything about the book. It destroyed the credibility of the narrator completely, birthing questions of “Then what the Hell actually happened? And how can I trust that the folks there at the pub are really there? And what happened during all that time and over all those years? Where’d the money for the apartments come from? What was the freaking point of this book?” and many many many more.

Yes, that was a lot. But you better bookmark this page, cause after reading Smile I guarantee you won’t have any answers either.

Good endings wrap up the story. They give the reader a sense of completion of the story that was told, even if there are elements that stretch beyond the finish line and suggest at a continuation or contradictory resolution based on what the reader learned through the pages. A good ending, even an open ending, is the well-deserved payoff for reaching the final page.

But Smile did not have a good ending. It had a backstabbing, slap you in the face and spit in your eye while it stole your phone sort of ending. It solved nothing. It answered nothing. It brought together nothing. It destroyed everything. The middle section (Hell, almost all of the book, really) is an unending series of flashbacks that feel utterly pointless, but there’s hope in there that getting through the inane and petulant behavior of the MC, along with the looking back at the Christian Brother’s school will have meaning in the end.

But there’s not.

It’s all pointless.

It’s all for naught, and it’s so blasé in its execution that I wanted to slap a baby (but instead I made some apple slices fried in a little butter with cinnamon sugar and sat on my front porch eating them with my hound, Tom Tom). My advice is to not read books that make you want to slap a baby. Because slapping babies is bad.

Corking the Bottle: From the writer of The Commitments, Roddy Doyle’s Smile is an interesting venture into the streets of working-class Dublin, and shines light on the horrific lifelong wounds carried by survivors of sexual assault and rape. However, for all the good of this, the execution and betrayal of the premise of the promise makes Smile a title to avoid. Flat characters, and a fussy, perpetually morose main character make the reader feel like they’re reading the journal of an early 00’s emo teen—without as much eyeliner.

If you liked this, check out some of these other Drunken Book Reviews!

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