Fiction – paperback; Jonathan Cape; 100 pages; 2015. Review copy courtesy of publisher.
I’m a long-time Roddy Doyle fan (I read most of his work before I started this blog, which means there are only a couple of reviews featured here), so I was keen to read his new title, Dead Man Talking, published as part of Galaxy Quick Reads.
For those not familiar with the Quick Reads programme, it publishes short books to encourage people to start reading. According to the press release that came with this book, Quick Reads titles are designed with adults in mind who “are either less confident in their reading skills or over time have become lapsed readers”.
Founded in 2006, the Quick Reads initiative was launched to help the country’s one in six adults of working age who have difficulty reading, as well as the one in three adults who do not read for pleasure. Through demonstrating that books and reading can be for everyone, Quick Reads has now distributed over 4.3million books to libraries, workplaces, hospitals, schools, parents, family groups and even prisons, where literacy continues to be significantly low.
Doyle is the first Booker Prize-winning author who has written for the programme since it was launched — and he’s perfect for it: he writes in an easy-to-understand style, his prose is simple and largely dialogue, and his stories are entertaining and “earthy”.
With that in mind, Dead Man Talking is pitched at adults but it could easily be read by a child with competent reading skills because it’s free of literary flourishes and big words. The chapters are short (some are only a page long) and the narrative clips along at a steady pace, so there’s no fear of an inexperienced reader becoming bored.
A short story about death
Dead Man Talking is essentially a short story about a man coming to terms with his own mortality.
It’s written in the first person from the point-of-view of a middle-aged man called Pat Dunne, who discovers that his friend, Joe Murphy, has died. The pair had a big falling out over a horse many years ago and haven’t talked since. Joe’s death raises lots of complicated feelings — guilt, sadness and nostalgia — in Pat, who doesn’t quite know how to deal with them.
The story has all the typical Doyle trademarks — a big heart, cracking one-liners and down-to-earth working class characters — but it felt a little cheesy to me. The cloying sentiment, however, is rescued by a nice little twist at the end, which gives the story a spooky, other-worldly feel.
True to the initiative’s branding, it’s a very “quick read” and could certainly be completed in a lunch hour or on a short train journey by those bloggers and bibliophiles who aren’t the target audience. It might not set your world on fire, but it raises some interesting issues, including what happens to us when we die, and why it’s important to treat friends, loved ones and complete strangers with kindness while we’re still alive.
It’s not a must-read by any stretch of the imagination, but as part of this initiative it fits the billing nicely — and I’m delighted such a “big name” author doesn’t think it’s beneath him to contribute in this way.
Several other titles will be published as part of the 2015 Quick Reads programme tomorrow (5 February). These include Paris for Two One by Jojo Moyes, Red for Revenge by Fanny Blake, Pictures or it Didn’t Happen by Sophie Hannah, Out Of The Dark by Adéle Geras and Street Can Bob by James Bowen. The initiative is sponsored by Galaxy chocolate and each book costs just £1.