The first time that I drank Guinness was also the first time that I met Roddy Doyle. It was the winter of 1997. My Dutch publisher and I had decided to meet in Dublin, which is halfway between New York and Amsterdam more or less. Since Roddy Doyle was published by the same house in the Netherlands that was bringing out my books, the publisher suggested that we all have dinner in Dublin.
I doubted if Roddy Doyle was up to dinner, but my doubts turned out to be completely unwarranted. Not only was he up for dinner, he was up for Guinness as well. He turned out to be one of the more gracious authors I have met.
After plenty of pints, we finally ate something. Then, in the middle of the night I had to call a doctor. Some food poisoning caused me to vomit and to keep doing so even after there was nothing left in my stomach. This was not related to the Guinness. Then I didn’t happen to see Roddy Doyle for a couple of years but this was not related to the food poisoning.
Finally this winter we met again, in Dublin at a bar.
Roddy Doyle spoke about the way English is changing in Dublin because of the influx of immigrants. He gave an example, which he later repeated during an event at the 92nd Y in New York.
He went to a salad bar in Dublin and chose a few different kinds of salad.
The young lady behind the counter showed him his container and asked, íIs it grand?ë
Roddy Doyle explained to me that you can say a thousand times in a day, íIt’s grand,ë but you can never ask íIs it grand?ë
He felt like hugging the girl behind the counter because of her question.
I thought of this because last’s week New Yorker published a brilliant short story by Roddy Doyle.
It’s about four friends in their forties, all men, all Dubliners, going to Spain for a short holiday.
One of the friends, Donal, ends up vomiting in the small swimming pool of the house the friends have rented.
Doyle writes, íHe lay there for a while longer, his face on his arm. He felt good—clear. He’d get up in a minute. He might finish the bottle. He was fine.
“This was living, he thought. This was happiness.ë
Most authors who write about happiness leave their readers depressed. Roddy Doyle is an exception. He manages to convince the reader that contrary most of our experiences, happiness is worth striving for even if it means vomiting in the swimming pool.