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Oh, Play That Thing by Roddy Doyle

Oh, Play That Thing (2004)

by Roddy Doyle

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6791721,221 (3.15)28
  1. 10
    'Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (bergs47)
  2. 10
    Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (bsiemens)
    bsiemens: Taken at face value, both books are about the jazz subculture during the early 20th century: 'Half Blood Blues' is set in France during the 1930s & 'Oh, Play That Thing' is set in America during the 1920s. The writing style is also quite similar.
  3. 00
    On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry (charl08)

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» See also 28 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
I love the work of Roddy Doyle. It started when I read The Commitments when it first came out and it has never wavered. His unique voice, complete with Irish as it’s spoken on the ground and in the neighborhoods of Dublin, is just a pure pleasure to read. I picked up this book before I realized that there was a book that came before it. I am given to understand that this is a kind of prequel or sequel to the other. Either way, I am glad I read this one first.

Henry Smart was a paid assassin for the IRA in the early 1900’s. He is forced to live on the run in Ireland and so leaves his wife and child to hide out and re-invent himself in the roaring twenties in America. The book opens with Henry exiting the boat on Ellis Island with all the other early immigrants of that period who came with the same idea – reinvention of self.

Henry starts out on the streets of New York. He is a bit of a grifter and born with the gift of Irish gab. He sets up his own business with street signs - people standing with sandwich boards over their shoulders advertising anything and everything. And, since Prohibition is in full swing, they also sell illegal hooch from their pockets beneath the boards.

Although Henry misses his wife and child, he is still a young man in a relatively new world and he takes up with a variety of women of all ages. But he can’t escape his IRA past and the streets of New York have plenty of keen eyed Irishmen willing to turn Henry over to the Irish mob for some pieces of silver.

Henry and one of his molls end up running a scam that runs them out of town and almost gets Henry killed. He does a little time and in an effort to put more land between Ireland and himself, he hot foots it off to Chicago. There, he starts to earn some money the way many Irishmen before him did – settling in the Back O’ The Yards and working in the meat packing plants. But for Henry, this is merely a pit stop in his adventures.

He meets a young musician on the rise – Louis Armstrong. He becomes Armstrong’s bodyguard, driver and general all-purpose man. Chicago is good to both of them. To help themselves survive, they take up petty theft and during the nighttime robbery of the widow of Marshall Field (yes, that one, of department store fame and Frangos), Henry discovers his wife and child. His wife has been searching for him, and now works as a housekeeper. His daughter was a baby last time he saw her and is now a savvy seven year old.

From there, more and more things happen. Both good and bad and reflecting well America from about 1924 to 1938 or so. The story has wonderful highs and some sad lows. In this time of great discussion regarding race relations in America, the book has some thought provoking ideas on same. If for no other reason, it might be a timely read for that alone.

It is a great story about America and the individuals who choose to come here and have always chosen to come here to re-invent themselves. Perhaps that is more the real American dream than any other. And that re-invention is a constant. The story also touches on organized crime, wealth and poverty, the immigrant experience, the outlaw as myth and fact and jazz.

Roddy Doyle has a writing style that for those that have not read anything by him, at first may be distracting. Sentences can be short and choppy as voices overlap. He writes in a way that reflects how people actually speak. Once you get into the rhythm of the work however, you become used to it and appreciate just how unusual and unique that voice is – and also, distinctly Irish. He uses a lot of Irish slang and some Celtic words. I love it personally.

The other thing I found is that his style of writing complements the jazz presented by Armstrong. Jazz has a unique musical voice itself. It stops and starts and bebop’s along and the words felt like jazz, if that makes any sense. That choppy stop and go with fast, crazy action complimenting slow, melancholy layers. Not only could you picture the jazz clubs and gangsters but you could almost hear in your head the music.

I love Roddy Doyle’s work and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good story. He is a fantastic teller of tales and you won’t be disappointed. He is also not confined to fiction. He has written at least one non-fiction book, some plays and some children’s stories. He also has a great facebook page and he often writes little ditties as a day to day practice which makes it one of my more entertaining social media stops. ( )
  ozzie65 | Sep 13, 2016 |
I had high hopes for this book as I really loved A star called Henry.
We now move on a few years from the previous book.
Henry is on the run heads to America meets some dodgy people and Louis Armstrong. Set in 1920s with Bootlegging and Gangsters all over the place.
I really wanted to enjoy this book but I didn't like the style or the characters.
Very disappointed not for me.
Not for me to silly,far fetched and ( )
  Daftboy1 | May 26, 2016 |
ebook version
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
One of the reasons that I read series is because I hope that the author will keep the same voice from book to book. In this, 'The Last Roundup' series let me down. Only once during the first one hundred pages, did I sense the same voice: when Henry Smart is interviewed by the immigration agent upon his arrival to America. Actually, the writing style in this book reminded me of another book about the jazz subculture in the 1930s, Half-Blood Blues, which I also abandoned. Too bad. ( )
  bsiemens | Jul 10, 2012 |
Man! That was a mouthful!! This is a sprawling novel that might have been better shorter, or made into two seperate books. There was much to absorb between Henry's New York, Chicago and western US adventures. I chaffed a little at the unlikely partnership between Henry and Louis Armstrong, but kept at it. At times it had the flavor of Joyce's Ulysses. It was an effort of will to perservere through some points in the novel, but it was worth it. Not as good as the first installment and now I'm on the hook for the third! :^)

Henry Smart is on the run. Fleeing from his Irish Republican Army paymasters, the men for whom he committed murder and mayhem, he has left behind his wife, Miss O’Shea, in a Dublin jail, and his infant daughter. When he lands in America, it's 1924, and New York is the center of the universe. Henry, ever resourceful, a pearl gray fedora parked on his head, has a sandwich board and a hidden stash of hooch for the speakeasies of the Lower East Side. When he starts hiring kids to carry boards for him, he catches the attention of the mobsters who run the district. It is time to leave, for another, newer America.

In Chicago there is no past waiting to jump on Henry. Music is everywhere, in the streets, in nightclubs, on phonograph records: furious, wild, happy music played by a man with a trumpet and bleeding lips called Louis Armstrong. But Armstrong is a prisoner of his color, and the mob is in Chicago too: they own every stage—and they own the man up on the stage. Armstrong needs a man, a white man, and the man he chooses is Henry Smart. ( )
  DuffDaddy | Mar 26, 2012 |
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'One never knows, do one?' - Fats Waller
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I could bury myself in New York.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014303605X, Paperback)

Praised as “a masterpiece” by the Washington Post, A Star Called Henry introduced the unforgettable Henry Smart and left Roddy Doyle’s innumerable fans clamoring for more. Now, in his first novel set in America, Doyle delivers. Oh, Play That Thing opens with Henry on the run from his Irish Republican paymasters, arriving in New York City in 1924. But in New York, and later Chicago—where he meets a man playing wild, happy music called Louis Armstrong—Henry finds he cannot escape his past.

A highly entertaining cross-country epic and a magnificent follow-up to A Star Called Henry, this prodigious, energetic, sexy novel is another Roddy Doyle triumph.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:52 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Ex-IRA assassin Henry journeys between Chicago and New York in his pursuit of his elusive wife and his love for jazz, all the while endeavoring to outmaneuver the death warrant that has followed him across the Atlantic.

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