Roddy Doyle, Frank
McCourt, et al,
Yeats is Dead!
(Random House, 2001)

Yeats is Dead! is a book of many parts. Each chapter in this novel, written to raise funds for Amnesty International, was penned by a different Irish author. That gives the story a varied flavor, highly seasoned with each writer's style -- and yet it's plainly obvious that some of them came to the project with a specific set of ingredients in mind, regardless of the base laid by those who wrote the preceding chapters.

Roddy Doyle gives the book a wonderful start, his chapter setting the scene with a dead eccentric, a pair of variably bumbling enforcers/police officers, an ominous and mysterious boss and a host of possibilities. Doyle's chapter is intriguing and funny -- at times, uproarious.

The chapters which follow are of varying degrees of success. Some pick up the story's thread and skillfully weave it into the growing tapestry. Others pick at the pattern left by those who came before them, doing odd things with previously introduced characters and, in some cases, trying too hard to give their own characters precedence over the others. Some characters brimming with possibilities are killed off to advance the plot in questionable directions, queering much of the book's potential. In fact, nearly every character of interest is killed in some messy fashion by a successive writer. By mid-book, there is hardly anyone left I cared to read about.

Besides Doyle, authors of this novel are Conor McPherson, Gene Kerrigan, Gina Moxley, Marian Keyes, Anthony Cronin, Owen O'Neill, Hugo Hamilton, Joseph O'Connor, Tom Humphries, Pauline McLynn, Charlie O'Neill, Donal O'Kelly and Gerard Stembridge. Frank McCourt is left trying to tie all the scattered pieces together and still give everyone still standing some semblance of a happy ending. I'm left wondering how the story would have turned out if Doyle had written the entire thing. I rather wish he had.

Still, the book was engrossing in part because I wanted to see how each author would treat the previous authors' work. By the end, although disappointed with the direction it had taken, I was still pleased with the overall nature of the book. The fact that each book sold puts a bit of cash in Amnesty International's treasury makes it better still.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 27 October 2001

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