Life Without Children by Roddy Doyle review – frustrated lives in lockdown

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In these emotionally charged short stories, Doyle explores love, resentment and connection through the eye of the pandemic

Roddy Doyle is a master of capturing the gulf between what people say to one another in intimate relationships, and what they want to say. His specialism over the last decade or so has been a particular generation of working-class Dublin man, fluent in pub banter but hobbled – often destructively so – when it comes to expressing deeper feelings. Doyle writes dialogue so natural and confident in its rhythms and silences that his novels can read like play scripts; his most recent, Love, consisted almost entirely of the back-and-forth between two old friends talking over the course of one night’s pub crawl. In this story collection he explores those familiar themes – unspoken resentments, unlived lives – through the lens of the pandemic, and the ways in which it has magnified the fissures and fault lines in ordinary lives.

Many of the stories pinpoint a moment when the threat of imminent catastrophe forces a crisis that has been simmering for a long time. In Box Sets a man throws a mug at the wall during an argument with his wife. When he returns home after storming out and meeting with an accident, he convinces himself the damage was not as bad as he’d feared: “It hadn’t really smashed. It was broken, but only in two halves, along an old crack.” Ignoring the evidence that his wife has gone, he stubbornly tells himself that continuity will save them. “They’d be fine; it wouldn’t be too bad. The future measured in box sets.”

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