What to read when you have Covid again? Well, how about Life Without Children, ten short stories by Irish author Roddy Doyle, set mainly around the first lockdown of the pandemic? It’s certainly a topical – and brilliant – read that I was drawn to as I lay in bed. We all experienced the pandemic (and, case in point, are still experiencing Covid), and so many of us are still processing what happened, which is why I think these stories resonate so much.
Life Without Children (also the title of story three) is actually the first book I’ve read by Roddy Doyle. But it won’t be my last. The nuances and emotions he captures in every story are amazing. I was immediately drawn into every tale and found my feelings going up and down over a few short pages.
Insight and human nature
There are 10 short stories, all set in Dublin in around the time of lockdown one in 2020. They vary in length but all tell powerful emotional tales.
Themes of understanding the situation we suddenly found ourselves in, forced isolation and self-reflection, life contemplation, grief, loneliness, happiness, the pleasure in small things and the power of human kindness recur through them all. Lots of the stories have slightly older characters. The third age – retirement time – comes up a few times; the pandemic amplifying feelings for people at this stage of life.
10 short stories
It’s not often I can say I enjoy every story in a collection, but in Life Without Children I honestly did. What many of them share is how they convey the gauntlet of emotion that lockdown was. You think it’s a sad story, then it swerves so you don’t know where you are. It’s so accurate to that time, human nature and mundane life being randomly, forcefully blended with the threat of losing a loved one to this virus hanging over us all.
The first three stories flowed, featuring older characters who are lost in life in different ways.
The forth story had a different feel and is so well crafted, with two perspectives from a married couple – lockdown bringing them clarity.
It has been like Christmas, with the girls home. Except for the hand-washing and spraying the front door and the letter box, and the fear that it was still going to get in – on his shoes, in his breath, that he was going to carry it into the house.
There is a short, highly-emotional interlude about an exhausted nurse, a tale about how many people were tipped to the edge of their sanity with one of the most gruesome pandemic-related images imaginable (wearing a dirty, used mask) the power of couples married for years reconnecting over small, incidental things and the regrets and mistakes that float to the surface when people are forced to think about things they otherwise wouldn’t have.
It was inevitable, a few years after it began, there would be a lot of books about lockdown and the pandemic. As Life Without Children‘s blurb describes, these are stories of ‘the shifting history under our feet’ – living through something so momentous does need to be documented.
Perhaps it was the strange parallel of having Covid while reading about lockdown (especially the first lockdown which has an almost unreal quality now if you think about it too much) that really drew me to these but I could have easily read 10 more of the sad, happy, sweet, traumatic stories – the blend of emotions was just so perfect and reflective of that time.
I love Roddy Doyle’s tone and writing style so am adding his back catalogue to my TBR now.
- Published by Vintage 2022;
- 192 pages;
- My rating:
I’ve just requested this from the library! I’ve not read Roddy Doyle in a very long time; I remember reading Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Woman Who Walked into Doors as a teenager and enjoying them. Looking forward to redisovering him. Fab review.
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Thank you! Yes Roddy Doyle has been on my TBR for way too long – will be catching up on his back catalogue this year, for sure.
I just borrowed this from Borrowbox. It’s short and I have it for 28 days so I’m sure I’ll fit it in between the other library loans 🙂. I’ve read the first story this morning with my coffee so I’m looking forward to the rest. It’s been so long since I read any Roddy Doyle. Thank you for recommending.
I found this on Borrowbox today so downloaded it. I had read the first story by the time I finished my coffee. Box sets? We’re still binging on them. It’s been a while since I read anything by Roddy Doyle but I’m looking forward to reading the other stories.
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They’re so well written, just a joy to read. Hope you liked the rest of them!
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