The men in Bullfighting are each concerned with loss in different ways - of their place in their world, of power, virility, love - of the boom days in Ireland's recent history and the Celtic Tiger. "The stories, his memories, were wearing out," the narrator of the title story thinks, "and there was nothing new replacing them."
The stories move from classrooms to crematoriums, local pubs to bullrings; featuring an array of men at their working day and at rest, taking stock and reliving past glories. In the first, "Recuperation," a man sets off for a prescribed walk around his neighbourhood, the sights triggering memories and recollections of his wife, his children, his younger days. In "Animals," George remembers caring for his children's many pets, his efforts to spare them grief when they die or disappear, looking, in the eyes of his wife, like a hero, like "your man from ER."
But now his kids are reared and he's unemployed, and he's slowly getting used to that. "Suffer. Your man Krugman said, when he asked how Ireland should deal with the next ten years. Well, this is George, suffering." Brilliantly observed, funny and moving, the stories in Bullfighting present a new vision of contemporary Ireland, of its woes and triumphs, and of the Irish middle-aged male confronting its new realities. It is a masterful new collection from one of the country's greatest writers.
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He walks. Every day, he walks. That was what the doctor had said. All the doctors. Plenty of exercise, they’d told him. It was the one thing he’d really understood.
—Are you a golf man, Mr Hanahoe?
A Globe and Mail Best Book
"Fine, poignant and subtly humorous stories. . . . [Bullfighting] is probably the finest collection of Irish short stories since James Joyce’s Dubliners. The delicacy of emotion is here, the spare but elegant writing, the heartbreak and humour. . . . There’s laugher and sadness, provided by a writer at his peak, teasing meaning out of the ordinary with exquisite skill and delicacy.”
—John Doyle, The Globe and Mail
“Bullfighting offers a series of rare and beautiful mid-life meditations. . . . With its chatty, in-the-pub style . . . you feel as though you are eavesdropping on each of these men’s forbidden thoughts and fears.”
“With the sparest materials Doyle snaps entire lives into sharp focus in a handful of pages, which is short fiction doing what short fiction does best.”
“Shedding tears, eliciting laughs and revitalising the mundanity of everyday existence has long been Roddy Doyle’s finest suit. He delivers it [in Bullfighting] in spades.”
“These stories pack a considerable cumulative punch, a resounding wake-up call to anyone who feels time running by too fast or the loss of meaning in their everyday lives and relationships. . . . The stories are much more powerful read together than on their own. . . . [They] have plenty of Doyle’s irreverent humour and language, too.”