Booker-winning Irish writer Doyle tackles the pandemic in ten short stories that reveal how different characters—from an exhausted nurse to a middle-aged man barred from his mother's funeral—deal with love, loss, grief and death during an unprecedented global emergency.
... a quietly devastating collection of short stories that brilliantly portrays the pervasive sense of hopelessness that immobilised us during the dog days of Covid ... Lest he be accused of focusing too much on men and their sense of victimhood, the countervailing magnificence of his women is worth noting. Part of Doyle’s genius resides in a kind of bathetic amusement at the follies of his male characters and always it’s the stoical good sense of women that saves the day ... Another of his great strengths is the ability to drop in those little epiphanies that resolve the tension and conflict of a story in a single significant moment ... Doyle breaks our free fall into despair by emphasising the redemptive power of humour, love and the kindness of strangers.
... what feels most familiar is the sense of absence that fills every story, of voices and bodies and people who are missed ... Doyle shows us men who are tired, or hurt, or baffled by the way things have turned out, walking around strange towns looking for things they are never going to find or making up tall tales so they don’t have to face the truth. And Covid doesn’t help ... There are laughs as well, of course, many of them prompted by a sort of gravedigger’s humour ... There are happy endings, too ... Generally, these are rooted in moments of connection, in finding new ways to talk to each other, after everything that has happened. There is dialogue, after all. Even in a pandemic.
Doyle writes dialogue so natural and confident in its rhythms and silences that his novels can read like play scripts ... there is an immediacy to the stories in Life Without Children, an emotional charge that comes with writing in real time, and an optimism too. In the stripping away of everyday anxieties, the virus reveals what matters most, those qualities that are always at the heart of Doyle’s fiction: love and connection, however clumsily expressed. The two final stories, 'Worms' and 'The Five Lamps,' both feature loved ones finding each other after a long estrangement as a result of the lockdown. If there’s an element of sentimentality in that, it is balanced by Doyle’s irreverent humour, and reflects our experience of living through a crisis. More than anything, these stories are about the vital importance of communicating with one another before it’s too late.