Ferries traveling between Holyhead and Dublin depart six times a day. Riders may find themselves crossing the Irish Sea on the Epsilon, the Jonathan Swift (the Fast Ferry), or—like the characters in Rob Doyle’s terrifically angry “John Paul Finnegan, Paltry Realist”—the Ulysses. The narrator of this story, whose name is also Rob Doyle, can hardly get a word in edgewise with his logorrheac companion, Finnegan, the founder and the sole practitioner of “paltry realism,” a brand of literature in which neither the common reader nor the academic critic is bound to take any delight. We are never told why the two Irishmen, Doyle and Finnegan, are journeying back to Dublin aboard the Ulysses, but we hear plenty of Finnegan’s feelings about his native country and his fellow countrymen. This is, obviously, a story haunted by James Joyce—the actual Joyce who wrote Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, as well as the government-approved Joyce, immortalized in statues and street names, and celebrated by the municipality of Dublin every 16 June.
Among the many excellent writers out of Ireland today, Rob Doyle is one of the funniest, the most provocative, and certainly one of the angriest. In his first novel, Here Are the Young Men, and his new book of stories, This Is the Ritual, he has introduced readers to a broad cast of desperate characters in difficult situations. This story—the first in This Is the Ritual—shows off Doyle’s Beckett-like ability to get narrative fire going from the simplest materials: two young Irishmen drinking on a ferry boat, going home to Dublin, one listening to the other, his double, who rants and raves.