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Oh, Play That Thing [Hardcover]

Roddy Doyle


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Book Description

Sept. 14 2004 Last Roundup
Roddy Doyle’s last novel, A Star Called Henry, was chosen by the The New York Times Book Review as one of the eleven Best Books of the Year; The Washington Post said it was “not only Doyle’s best novel yet; it is a masterpiece, an extraordinarily entertaining epic.” Now Doyle, author of six bestselling novels, twice nominated for the Booker Prize and once a winner, turns his protagonist Henry Smart’s rich observation and linguistic acrobatics loose on America, in an energetic saga full of epic adventures, breathless escapes, and star-crossed love. Publishers Weekly says “Doyle just gets better and better.”

Our Irish hero arrives in New York in 1924 to bury himself in the teeming city and start a new life; having escaped Dublin after the 1916 Rebellion, Henry Smart is on the run from the Republicans for whom he committed murder and mayhem. Lying to the immigration officer, avoiding Irish eyes that might recognise him, hiding the photograph of himself with his wife because it shows a gun across his lap, he throws his passport into the river and tries to forge a new identity. He charms his way into the noisy, tough Lower East Side, reads to Puerto Rican cigar makers, hauls bottles for a bootlegger and composes ads on sandwich boards, finally setting up his own business with the intention of making his fortune. But he makes enemies along the way among mobsters such as Johnny No and Fast Olaf. Henry hightails it out of Manhattan with a gun at his back and Fast Olaf’s hustler of a half-sister on his arm.

This was a time when America was ripe for the picking, however, and a pair of good, strong con artists could have the world at their fingertips. The Depression was sending folks to ride the rails in search of a new life and new hope, and all trains led to Chicago. As Henry’s past tries to catch up with him, he takes off on a journey to the great port, where music is everywhere: wild, happy music played by a man with a trumpet called Louis Armstrong. Armstrong needs a white man, and the man he chooses is Henry Smart.

The bestselling A Star Called Henry followed Henry Smart from his birth in 1902 until the age of twenty, by which time he had already had a lifetime’s worth of adventures in his native Ireland. With these books, Doyle was trying in some ways to write a story like Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, starting at the beginning of his life and following him through many years of adventures. To write the new book, he had to research the vanished world of pre-war America.

“I went to Chicago, on the south side, to see if any of the old jazz clubs were still around. I was very keen to see what Henry would have seen as he’d stood outside, under the awnings. But all the jazz clubs that were along State Street, they’re all gone; every one of them’s gone. There’s one that’s still standing – it was, originally, The Sunset Cafe, where Louis Armstrong played, but now it’s a hardware store. The Vendome Cinema, where he used to play during the intermissions, is now a parking lot for the local college. That I found upsetting. But on the other hand it was very liberating because in its absence I can invent.”

Music, often American soul or blues, is always important in Roddy Doyle’s work, often as escapism for the working-class Dubliners in the Barrytown books. Doyle grew up listening to American music and likes to write while listening to music. For Henry in America, Doyle says, “when he hears this music, he feels he’s being baptized. He’s new. He feels he’s gotten away from Ireland. He’s gotten away from the misery of it all and he’s listening to this glorious celebration.”

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada; 1st Edition edition (Sept. 14 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0676976875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676976878
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.3 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 726 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,913,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Doyle stumbles somewhat in this sequel to his excellent 1999 bestseller, A Star Called Henry. Beginning with Irish revolutionary Henry Smart's arrival in New York City in 1924, the story follows Henry's subsequent adventures in advertising, bootlegging, pornography, unlicensed dentistry and keeping ahead of the former associates who'd like to see him eat a lead sandwich. After encroaching too much on a mobster's turf—and getting lucky with another powerful fellow's kept lady—Henry hightails it to Chicago, where he becomes the unofficial manager of a young Louis Armstrong. Though serendipitously reunited with his beloved wife and the daughter he's never met while trying to rob her employer's house, Henry soon heads back to New York to help Louis make it big. While just as brash and lively as Doyle's earlier novels, this one isn't nearly as focused; the dialogue-heavy narrative is interspersed with shifts in setting, time and plot, and characters appear and disappear with little consequence, their spoken parts hasty, repetitive and often perplexing. Worse, Doyle takes Henry Smart's charm for granted; readers unfamiliar with his previous adventures may roll their eyes at his arrogance and incessant sexual encounters. There's just too much material; any of the novel's numerous strands could have been fleshed out into its own book. That said, the novel is still a lot of improbable fun.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Times may be tough in 1920s New York, but for ex-IRA assassin Henry Smart, Ellis Island seems like heaven on earth. In this ebullient continuation of the epic that began with the 2000 best-seller A Star Called Henry, Dublin-born Smart leaves behind his loving wife (whom he still calls Miss O'Shea) and infant daughter to start life anew. Donning a pearl gray fedora and a snappy suit, Henry finds a job as a sandwich-board ad man and complements his earnings by selling the bootleg liquor tucked inside the placards. As he mingles with gangsters and dolls, Henry keeps a watchful eye out for the "hard men" who know about the death warrant issued for him on the other side of the Atlantic. When his overly enterprising ways enrage his superiors, Henry flees to Chicago, where he embraces the emerging jazz scene and becomes trumpeter Louis Armstrong's right-hand man. In an era when skin color dictates status, Smart's responsibilities are clear: "My purpose was my whiteness, and my willingness to walk it beside Louis." The two return to Harlem, where the soaring music scene makes Smart's heart sing. But the past forever haunts Henry, who holds out hope for a reunion with true love O'Shea. Booker Prize-winning novelist and screenwriter Doyle displays his trademark sensitivity and wit in a tale full of adventure, passion, and prose as punchy as a Satchmo riff. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars O Stop This Thing... Dec 28 2004
By Charity - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
After such a brilliant start to his trilogy with 'A Star Called Henry', Doyle disappoints. Henry in my mind is a character that must remain forever young, daring, charismatic; not a poor, trodden, maimed, middle-aged man who, despite living about 20 years in America, ends up in pretty much the exact state in which he was in at the end of the first book. While some of the sense of adventure still clearly remains, I finished the book somewhat disappointed. Doyle's writing was often confusing; he seems to think that endless dialogues will compensate for his lack of even a few sentences to establish ambiance. Characters, while vivid, did not carry quite the same power as they did in 'A Star Called Henry'. Flashbacks, in which excerpt from the former are repeated, stand out as better writing than the stuff that surrounds it. And, as I said, Henry, by the end of the novel, has grown too much in too short a space. A 300-page book made our hero age nearly 25 years, when his every adventure could be made into a separate book. A beginning that held potential; but Henry, who has slept with about every woman in town despite promising to only truly love his wife has become a man who is impertinent, but not charmingly so. A young fighting Irish hero, in a very short space, becomes an old, depressingly beat, and almost - gasp - dull man.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oh, say it ain't so! Feb. 13 2006
By Tway - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was mesmerized by A Star Called Henry, so I expected the same passionate, magical, heartbreaking storytelling with Oh, Play That Thing. Instead, I found myself disconnected, confused, incredulous, and downright disappointed much of the time.

The writing itself is incredible, and Henry is still the hero who alternately flutters and tears apart your heart, but the plot is just about impossible to follow - or believe. Henry goes from one over-the-top situation to the next, and the coincidences leave you scratching your head. And his incredible, complicated, timeless love for his wife - which drove the plot and the pace of the first novel - takes the backseat much of the time. Yes, Henry is far away and yes, he is a Casanova with an unquenchable thirst, but he conveniently leaves all that passion and pain behind, save for the occasional line or two that Roddy Doyle seems to offer up to forgive Henry's forgetting.

In the end, I felt like I'd missed half the points the novel was trying to make, and Henry Smart became more of a cheap pawn than a complex character. He became a whole new, impossible-to-believe character, with barely a link to the boy we first met. I can't imagine where the next novel will take us, although it looks like Henry will see his name in lights after all. I'd trade in all that flash for one more dirty, gritty story of the real MacCoy.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Second Installment Oct. 7 2008
By Ashley D. Roop - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Yes, 'Oh, Play That Thing' is different than 'A Star Called Henry'. It shows Henry during the next 20 or so years of his life but frequently references events from the first book. I don't agree with people getting upset about the change in Henry's personality - no one's (hopefully) the same when they're 30 as they were when they were 15; people grow and change and that is what Doyle has shown in 'Oh, Play That Thing'. It has been said that Henry isn't as likable in this book as he was in the first, but I didn't find that to be true. Coming from the background he did and living through some of the most tumultuous events of the early 20th century, it's only to be expected that he would develop some degree of a hardened exterior and put up some sort of protective barrier between himself and others.

I loved it and can't wait for the third one!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read July 11 2010
By Aelis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was an all-around good read, but not as great as "A Star Called Henry." Also, you have to have read the first book for much of the second to make sense. If you like Roddy Doyle it will still be an interesting read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Story in the finest Irish (and American) Traditions Nov. 1 2008
By W. A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
"Oh, Play That Thing," is the followup to "A Star Called Henry" and is entirely complementary to the first part of this three part trilogy. I can't wait for part 3. The characters in these first two parts of the trilogy are unique but oh so fitting to the best (and worst) of Irish and American cultures and mythology. Love the tie in with Louis Armstrong, New York, Chicago, and other places (not to spoil the story before you read it). Roddy Doyle has a great ear and ability to write dialogue fitting of places and time. He combines the toughness of life with the greatness of life in people who live it fully and then some. Really enjoyed this book, and before it A Star Called Henry and can't wait for the next and final in the trilogy.

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