Fucking in fiction: are you for or against? I only ask because Roddy Doyle's frequent use of the F-word might cause even Gordon Ramsay to turn salmon-pink. Bad language as a shock tactic often falls flat, but sometimes profanity signals credibility. So thumbs up for The Deportees; If you're looking for the real Dublin, forget Bono, Riverdance and Dustin the Turkey, Doyle has the Irish capital to a T. And an F.
The Deportees is a compilation of short stories written by Doyle for Dublin's first multicultural daily newspaper. These tales of the uninvited show what happened when a small nation suddenly became a honey pot for the world's dispossessed.
It was during the 1990s that Ireland started booming. The Celtic Tiger roared, and from Lagos to Latvia, they responded. Ireland experienced a greater percentage increase in immigration in a single decade than Britain had experienced in half a century. As Doyle himself observes, "I went to bed in one country and woke up in another."
The book is about encounters between immigrants and home-grown Dubliners. Humour is never far away, even in the darker stories, and there's a liberal helping of the craic.
In "I Understand," a Dublin waiter gives the kitchen help a masterclass in the gentle art of Irish cursing.
"I have a new one for you, he says – Ready?"
I take my hands from the water.
"Me bollix," he says. "Repeat."
"Excellent," says Kevin, "Top man."
Meanwhile, in "75% Irish," a graduate student hits upon a novel test of citizenship. His device records the user’s response to a replay of Robbie Keane's goal against Germany in the World Cup. For a government minister scrambling to defuse the political impact of a demographic time bomb, it’s a gift.
Preposterous? Of course. But let's remember the Tory Party chairman, who contended that Britishness could be determined by which cricket team you supported when England played the West Indies. Under those criteria, I'm 100% Antiguan.
Pride and prejudice, stereotype and stigma loom large in "Home to Harlem." Declan, a black Irish student, hopes a literature course in New York will resolve his identity crisis. Explaining his quest to an unsympathetic professor, Declan is both eloquent and to the point.
He tells her about first reading The Souls of Black Folk, about the question repeated in the first paragraph of the first chapter: "How does it feel to be a problem?" "The problem is, he says, "I'm black and Irish, and that's two fuckin' problems."
Back in Dublin, the immigrants have problems aplenty. An African boy is bullied at school, an illegal immigrant is the victim of blackmail; and a Polish childminder is spooked by the unlikeliest of ghosts.
The centrepiece of the book resurrects Jimmy Rabbitte, erstwhile godfather of The Commitments. This time, he's putting together a new band, with assorted imports from Romania, New York and Nigeria, plus a couple of Dubliners. After a shaky start, the deportees find their feet and harmony reigns.
But just when we’re starting to view things through emerald-tinted glasses, the author brings us back to reality. There's enough menace in Roddy Doyle's stories to show that in Dublin's fair city, the rattle and hum of racism is alive, alive-oh.