When I tell you that Roddy Doyle’s new novel, Love, is about two 50-ish men talking well-oiled talk in a pub, you’ll say you’ve heard that one before. You haven’t. When I tell you that the novel isn’t so much about what happens, or happened once upon a time, as it is about the mystically inaccurate nature of language, you’ll say you learned that lesson long ago. You didn’t, at least not the way Doyle spins it. When I tell you that in spite of these familiarities, you’ll wind up caring about a bond that seems to rely mainly on words, you’ll say you won’t. You will ... There’s a lot of Joyce in this novel — not the layered density of Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, but the layered simplicity of Dubliners, in the straightforward yet incantatory sentences, and in the loading of simple words ... In Love, some of the best language is silence ... Maybe a theme hiding in this novel is that men are not as awful at communicating as we, and women, say we are. There may be as much truth in awkwardness and evasiveness as there is in openness and clarity — the truth latent in floundering, in not being able to say what we mean (must we?) because we haven’t the foggiest idea what we mean.
... this story, with its beer-inspired and home-brewed philosophy, its funny and painful moments, is about love, and not just the love of beer (as the cover art suggests). It’s about love and the remembrance of love between friends, lovers, and family ... Doyle’s narrative style is fast-paced and deceptively easy to read ... But Love is surprisingly weighty. Doyle has put the story in Davy’s mouth as dialogue, interrupted by a few short bits of narration, that goes down as smoothly as gulps of beer. But Joycean dialogue set off with a single em-dash can be confusing, and it’s sometimes hard to identify dialogue as it flows into narration ... it’s easy to imagine Doyle adapting Love, this brilliant two-character story, as a movie with Davy and Joe crawling the pubs and dueling with conflicting memories as their stories flash back to the pubs and women from their past.
As with so much of Doyle’s work, Love is heavy on dialogue. So when the narrative shifts away from the often-fraught conversation between Davy and Joe and into Davy’s past, it can feel like a reprieve ... In the devastating final pages, all the hard drinking of the night gives way to an extraordinary tenderness ... Throughout, Doyle imbues the ordinary moment with a certain grace; moving exchanges with taxi drivers, a homeless couple sharing a paperback, a barman standing looking at his phone in the passage between the bar and the lounge. At the very least, anyone who is longing for the quiet comfort of 'a clean well-lighted place' will find some consolation here ... an extraordinary book in which very little happens. But just as music is said to lie in the silence between the notes, it is a masterful study in all that goes unsaid.