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The Dogs, Not The Bus

A review of Roddy Doyle's A Greyhound of a Girl, a haunting book about a haunting.

The Dogs, Not The Bus
She'd tried to even the score, by saying yes so often that the no would fade to nothing. But it never had. And after a while, she was glad it hadn't. It was only a word and it was a line right back to her mother.

BOOK REPORT for A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

Cover Story: Just Gorgeous
BFF Charm: Yes!
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Just Grand
Bonus Factors: Kickass Gram, Greyhounds
Relationship Status: A Shoulder To Cry On

Cover Story: Just Gorgeous

This cover is beautiful -- the silhouettes evoke old-timey children's illustrations, while the climbing flowers bring to mind classic tattoo art. The combination of old and new and just plain old beauty is perfect for this novel. I want a framed print of this cover on my wall!

There's also the UK edition, which also looks like a classic children's book cover, and which is also gorgeous (you have to read "gorgeous" in an Irish accent, like "gahrrr'jus" or something to get the full effect), and which I also want on my wall.

The Deal:

Mary's walking home from school, alone now that her BFF has moved away, when she runs into an odd woman outside her flat. The woman -- Tansey -- is younger than her mother, but seems old -- something about the way she dresses and her manner of speaking -- but Mary doesn't think much about her except that she's nice, since her granny's dying in hospital and she doesn't have a BFF anymore. After visiting her cranky, wonderful granny, Mary mentions Tansey to her mother, who realizes the woman has the same name as her grandmother. She has the same name, because she is Scarlett's grandmother -- Mary's great-grandmother, and her granny Emer's mother -- come to help Emer say goodbye.

BFF Charm: Yes!

At the risk of sounding like Mary's mother Scarlett, who always speaks in !!!!!!!!!!!!!, yes! Yes! I'd give a billion BFF charms to each and every one of these women, a billion times over. Mary's delightfully cheeky, especially when she's not trying to be. Scarlett's a complicated, enthusiastic mother whom I'd love to see star in a Roddy Doyle novel for grownups. Emer's kind and cranky and also very, very cheeky, but that's ok when you're old and dying. Tansey, ah, Tansey, who loves her girl so much and wasn't ready to leave -- she's just so heartbreaking and heartwarming I want to curl up in her lap like a young Emer and give her a hug.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

This is a story about, in Doyle's words, "four generations of women … One of them is dead, one of them is dying, one of them is driving, and one of them is just starting out." It's not a romantic love story, although there are sweet moments between the three elder women and their husbands. It is a love story for families -- not just women, but especially mothers and grandmothers and daughters.

Talky Talk: Just Grand

I love reading books about Dublin -- I love the speech patterns and little phrases. I wish I could get away with working in a casual, "Ah, sure," or a "grand, just grand," but I don't think it would fly. I do in my mind, though.

Doyle's writing has more to recommend it than just lilting Irish turns of phrase. It's lyrical but concise, with simple phrases telling elaborate stories beneath the surface. It's the kind of book I want to spend hours with, just thinking about the brilliance of choosing one perfect word over another, and how it changes everything. The book slips back and forth between Mary's point of view and the memories of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Her grandmother picked her up. She held Emer over the bed, as if she was going to drop her onto her mammy and her mamy would wake and laugh and catch her.

"Kiss her goodbye and we'll go on down tot he fire."

"No!"

She remembered that No! She could still hear it, more than eighty years later. It had followed her everywhere, all her life.

"No!" 

... That was what she'd done, all her life. She'd tried to even the score, by saying yes so often that the no would fade to nothing. But it never had. And after a while, she was glad it hadn't. It was only a word and it was a line right back to her mother.

There's lots more funny (Mary's decision to be a world famous chef) and heartbreaking (the story of Tansey's death) but I'll save it for you to discover.

Bonus Factor: Kickass Gram

Tansey and Emer both get this award. What's more kick ass than a ghost granny? Except maybe a real granny who's like Emer -- prickly and warm and who makes you feel special.

Bonus Factor: Greyhounds

The title does not disappoint! There are greyhounds in the book, and although they have more of a symbolic role, HELLO. THEY'RE GREYHOUNDS. Only the best dogs on the PLANET (excepting my otherhoundish mutt, Daisy, of course). I had a delightful, memorable weekend in college once, house/dogsitting with my roommate for our rugby coach, and her lovely greyhound Belle. Belle was 13, and was a dog-track rescue, so she had no feeling in her back legs and had to walk on a path made of doormats because she would slip on hard floor. Belle was magnificent -- sleek, grey, bony, cuddly -- and looked smashing in a bath-towel cape. Anyway, I love greyhounds.

Casting Call:

Saoirse Ronan as Mary

Once again, she's a bit too old for the part, but Saoirse Ronan would make a great Mary.

Maureen O'Hara as Tansey

Young Maureen O'Hara would make a grand Tansey.

Relationship Status: A Shoulder To Cry On

This book is that friend I turn to when I need advice or sympathy. It might be my very best friend, but it also might be a favorite bartender or that especially nice peer counselor in my dorm. It's funny and warm, and listens to what I say, then tells a story to help me come to terms with my own heartache. It understands exactly what it means to lose someone close -- especially a grandmother -- and it doesn't make me feel ashamed for crying about it. At the end of our time together, I still feel sad, but I also feel a little hopeful -- I know I can carry on.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Marion Lloyd, via NetGalley.  I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). A Greyhound of a Girl is available now.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.