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A Star Called Henry

Doyle, Roddy

Toronto: Vintage


A Star Called Henry

Plot Summary

Henry Smart is born among the tenement slums of Dublin in the early 1900’s, and by the age of five has learned to negotiate the streets with only his younger brother, Victor, by his side. The two attempt to find food and money through various modes of mischief and only return home from time to time, to check up on their mother. It is not long before Victor develops tuberculosis—though Henry conceives of it as only a bad cough. One devastating morning, Henry wakes up to find Victor dead underneath the tarpaulin that covered them. He leaves the body behind and walks the streets, angry at the city that killed his brother.

Years later, Henry finds himself inside the GPO during the 1916 Rising. Under the tutelage of James Connolly and the ICA, Henry becomes embedded in significant historical events. Inside the GPO, he reconnects with his former schoolteacher, Miss O’Shea, and they begin a torrid love affair. But although he is side-by-side with the Volunteers, Henry’s fight is not a nationalistic one: he insists that he shoots and kills because he wants to annihilate all that he has been denied as one of the Dublin’s poorest. When, after the Rising is finally quelled, the remaining Volunteers are marched along the Liffey, Henry jumps into the river and escapes into one of the city’s underground sewage drains.

After his escape, Henry finds Miss O’Shea and the two are married. Together, they carry out various IRA activities. On the run as an assassin, Henry finds himself training a group of new Volunteers at the head of which is a young man named Ivan (Miss O'Shea's cousin), who quickly rises up as a leader in the IRA. Before long, though, Henry is arrested and tortured. Miss O’Shea tricks a guard so that Henry can escape once again.

When he is reunited with his wife, though, Henry learns that all is not well in the IRA. Newer members, and Ivan in particular, have climbed the ranks and are running things differently; they want Henry dead. He and Miss O’Shea have a daughter, but are not able to enjoy her existence because she is wrenched away by the authorities when Miss O’Shea is imprisoned. The novel ends with a resolution from Henry that he will start a new life in Liverpool.

Sequels:Oh, Play that Thing! and The Dead Republic

Main Characters

  • Henry Smart

Significant Minor Characters

  • Melody Nash

  • Victor Smart

  • Granny Nash

  • Dolly Oblong

  • Alfie Gandon

  • Jack Dalton

  • Mick Collins

  • Connolly

  • Pearse

  • Piano Annie

  • Miss O’Shea

  • Missis O’Shea

  • Ivan

  • Mister Climanis

Publication History

The novel was first published in hardcover in August 1999 by Jonathan Cape (London). In September 2000, it was published in paperback by Vintage. That same year, it was also published in paperback by Penguin USA. Penguin published it again in paperback in October 2004. In August of that same year, Vintage Canada also published it in paperback. The novel is currently in print.

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