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I've often wondered what goes through an author's mind the next time they sit down to write after winning a major literary prize. Does it put undue pressure on an author, thinking that they will have to write something equally as good or better next time around? Some writers can wilt under the pressure and future offerings are derided by critics as 'not as good as (insert title here)'. But some thrive under the weight of expectation and continue to write wonderful stories. 1993 Booker Prize winner [[Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle]] falls firmly into this latter category.
Doyle's latest is ''Bullfighting'', a collection of stories about life in Ireland. Indeed, to call them stories is almost to damn them with faint praise, as they're really more than stories, more like little slices of life that just happened to be written down. They have a quality about them that is so immediately familiar that in reading them you can almost visualise the people and wouldn't be at all surprised to pass them in the street.
Most of modern human life is represented within these vignettes. From the opening story, ''Recuperation'', about a man walking to assist his recovery from illness through to the last, ''Sleep'', which explores a man's thoughts as he watches his wife sleeping, there is so much here. There are illnesses and deaths; marriage break up and relationships form. The men in these pages are sons, are fathers, are husbands. Perhaps the only thing missing here is due to the exclusively male narration meaning that, whilst there are female characters in many of the stories, we don't hear their side of things except occasionally second hand.
It may be because I'm a man I was able to put this missing perspective aside, but it's more likely it was possible because each story here is beautifully observed. All of the stories are set in Ireland, but there are moments here that transcend national boundaries. The memories of being teased at school are universal, as is the pain of loss and rejection. Age affects us all and you can't do the same things at 40 as you could at 20, as the story ''Bullfighting'' shows. Equally, ''Animals'' proves that regardless of which country you're living in, goldfish will die and your son could be allergic to the new guinea pig. Some of the phrases used are distinctively Irish, as are some of the locations, but the thought and feelings expressed here are universal.
The beauty of this collection is that I never felt as if I was reading a story. Indeed, in many ways the closest comparison I can think of is ''22 Short Stories About Springfield'', which was a Season 7 episode of ''The Simpsons''. Much like that episode, it looked around town in short sections and, as here, the stories were over at the point you were wishing there was more. Both were wonderfully observed and frequently amusing and there's something quite Bart Simpson-esque in Doyle's description of a wife's new underwear as ''Four decades of arse parked inside a piece of string''.
There's nothing here not to like. Maybe you could object to the amount of swearing, but you can't leave the house or watch a film without experiencing just as much bad language as there is here. Perhaps the single gender perspective could be an issue, but you miss far more by not reading the book than you would gain by having that extra point of view. Quite frankly, this is one of the most accurately observed books on human life I've come across and it's well worth a look, unless you happen to be non-human, especially with prices from as low as 99 pence plus postage from eBay and £2.30 plus postage from the Amazon Marketplace.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk