A Star Called Henry
The story focuses around the life events of Henry Smart. Part 1 opens with Henry on his mothers lap looking to the stars pointing out which one she believes is her dead Henry, the first baby that didn’t survive. Henry describes the first meeting of his father and mother, Henry Smart and Melody Nash. They get married and then move into a quaint apartment that even has a straw bed. Henry’s father works as a bouncer at a local brothel as well as a hitman. Each time his father kills he leaves the message, “Alfie Gandon says, ‘Hello.’”
When Henry is born there is much commotion in the slums of Dublin, due to his extreme health as a baby, a rarity in the slums. The Smarts are ecstatic to have a son. He is baptized without a name but is later named Hanry after much dispute between his father and mother. His mother was strongly against the idea of naming him Henry after already losing a Henry. Melody spirals into depression.
As his mother entered depression Henry’s father became a enraged machine and one night as the bouncer at the brothel let in not a single guest. This leads to a meeting with Dolly Oblong who in turn scolds him and docks his pay. Henry Smart Sr. becomes enthralled with Dolly Oblong and the power he perceives she has. Enamored he works almost slave like completely neglecting his family, while his wife toils with the ever-changing family due to the birth and death of more children. Henry’s brother is born and becomes Henry’s follower.
With Victor by his side, Henry, at the age of five begins to create havoc on the streets. This includes getting into trouble by jeering at a crowd cheering for the king and queen. Henry’s father rescues them and runs them through the underground waterways of Dublin. He leaves them crying outside one of the waterways. Smart Sr. returns to clean up one of his kills when he is recognized by policemen, who kill him.
Henry and Victor continue life on the streets and become quite the scam artists, finding ways to turn anything in their favor. Henry feels like something is missing so he and his brother begin to go to school. They meet Miss O’Shea the teacher who teaches Henry to write his name. They end up leaving the school after three days. The return to the streets and sleep under a tarpaulin that night and Victor dies in the night of what Henry thinks is Consumption. Without his brother Henry is fairly perturbed.
We refocus into the year 1916. A fourteen-year-old Henry has joined the Irish Citizen army. They take over and fortify General Post Office. The settle in for what would be deemed the Easter Uprising. They practice guerrilla warfare in order to help compensate for their poor amount or ammunition, arms, and supplies. They announce the Proclamation of Independence. Henry adds his two cents, now that he can read and write thanks to James Connolly, the leader of the I.C.A.
They are then pestered by women whose husbands are still out at war and haven’t returned from France. This is the first instance in which Henry meets Piano Annie. He kisses her as he hands out money to the women. She then tells him how to find her.
Henry then meets Miss O’Shea again, who had joined the Cumman na mBan. The city is under heavy siege and the ICA waits for support from their allies. Henry goes to visit Miss O’Shea, they end up having sex in a dark side room for the first time. They are then separated by the chaos of war.The uprising is unsuccessful and after several days of waiting for reinforcements. Many men are captured including Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke and De Valera all of who are executed except De Velera. Henry escapes the grasp of the executors by the waterways his father had shown him. He then goes to see Piano Annie, and they begin a relationship.
Annie secures a job for Henry as a dockworker under the alias Fergus Nash. Henry works there for a while when out of nowhere Piano Annie’s “dead” husband returns, forcing Henry back to the streets. Henry then seeks out Granny Nash who tells him of Alfie Gandon is exchange for reading materials. He continues a secret affair with Annie who places his father’s leg in the window to tell him it’s safe. Henry meets Jack Dalton who befriends him and draws him back into the idea of a rebellion. Henry retrieves his father’s leg and swears into the Irish Republic Brotherhood. Henry kills his first police officer.
Collins becomes a central figure in the rebellion. He creates “circles,” which consist of no more than ten men. These men then work as a group gathering information about the enemy. Soon after, Collins introduces a new group of bicyclized fighters. Henry is one and he is sent on a crazy trek to be tested by Collins. They end up fighting and Collins knocks him out. While he recovers he stays with the pleasant old Missis O’Shea, who is as Henry guesses Miss O’Shea’s mother.
The rebel supported political party Sinn Féin wins the general election. Henry returns to the countryside in order to train up new soldiers in the IRA style guerilla warfare. Henry is adopted into Collins’ Twelve Apostles a hand selected elite group of warriors. Henry finds Miss O’Shea again and eventually marries her. He also begins to enjoy the company of a Latvian Jewish immigrant named David Climanis.
An attack goes bad while Henry and Miss O’Shea are out. As they flee she is shot in the arm and Henry in the chest. She carries Henry to safety. While Henry recovers Miss O’Shea earns the name “Our Lady of the Machine Gun.” The IRA takes a huge action against the British and kills 13 agents.
Hnery is caught and is consequently tortured. The Auxies fail to gain any information from him. He accidently says Jack Dalton’s name. He then is luckily freed as Miss O’Shea has tricked or bribed the guards for his freedom. Henry is reunited with her. Her head is shaved because of her meddling in Ivan’s business who has become quite the businessman.
Henry can tell that they will either be killed or have to hide. When he visits Jack Dalton this is confirmed when Dalton shows him a paper with his name on it calling for a hit. Henry goes to visit his baby daughter. Then returns to Dublin to avenge his father kill Alfie Gandon. He confronts Gandon and learns that he was David Climanis’ indirect killer.
The four-part novel, A Star Called Henry, is presented in a first person omniscient perspective, yet not fully omniscient, as he does not fully know the thoughts and feelings of those he interacts with. Narrated in the early 20th century by the main character Henry Smart, the book is a faux autobiography sequencing events in the life of the fictional Henry Smart. The novel recounts the violent Irish rebellion with great detail and historical accuracy. To this work of historical fiction Roddy Doyle adds in a well-rounded romance to the story as well as the inner moral battles of a young man placed in war and violence.
Henry Smart is the harsh-mouthed protagonist of the novel. He is a street-raised and self-raised hooligan. While very quick-witted he maintains a sort of naivety throughout the novel. He is a natural leader of common men and very loyal to those he works for. He is always attentive and observant and always on the ready to kill. Though fatherless he clings to the idea of his father in the wooden leg that he carries with him and wields as a weapon as his father did. Henry is caught up in the revolution for the freedom of Ireland from Britain.
Henry Smart Sr.:
Henry’s father, a one-legged bouncer for Dolly Oblong’s brothel, due to his large stature and reputation no one messed with him even with his missing leg. He has built up images of greatness that tend hamper his perception of reality. This distorted view makes him very easily manipulated by those who prey on his desires for greatness.
Victor is Henry’s younger brother. He is Henry’s little follower and very probably the closest friend he ever has. Henry is constantly looking out for him and between the two of the they do what they want on the streets of Dublin. Sadly, he dies at a young age like many of the children of the slums to some sort of coughing sickness., that Henry believes to be Consumption.
Melody Smart is Henry’s dreamer of a mother who is placed into the role of motherhood. When Henry’s father begins to become ever more absent she begins to spiral into depression and alcoholism. She constantly looks to the stars and views them as her numerous lost children.
Miss O’Shea was originally Henry and Victor’s short-term teacher. She later becomes Henry’s lusty wife. She also plays an important role in the various missions that Michael Collins has Henry running about. She also saves Henry’s life on multiple occasions. She is a strong woman
Michael Collins is one of the few non-fictional characters in the novel. Yet, his actions retain some fictionality. Michael Collins is a military and political leader in the novel. He forms a group called Collins’ Boys, a group of specialized errand runner’s and killers of which Henry is a part of. Collins is a strong moving force for the rebellion and he decides many of the decisions for the Irish Republican Army.
Alfie Gandon (Mr. O’ Gandúin):
Alfie Gandon is a notorious mobster and crime-lord in the slums of Dublin when Henry is young. As time goes on he changes his name to Alfred O’Ganduin, in hope he can find himself a political seat in the birth of young Ireland. Alfie Gandon was the name that sent Henry’s father on random killing missions for him using the phrase “Alfie Gandon says hello.” This relationship ends with the death of Henry Smart Sr. Eventually Henry avenges his dead father and kills Mr. O’Ganduin.
As the mistress of a slum brothel, Dolly Oblong is a shrewd businesswoman. She though old and bald, holds a strange power of attraction over men. She is a lackey of Alfie Gandon who controls many of the activities in the slums. Henry’s father falls under her spell and becomes enamored with the idea of the two of them being together. This fantasy is the primary reason for Henry Sr.’s absence in Henry’s life.
Jack is one of Henry’s friends, whom pulls him into the beginnings of a true revolution rather than an uprising like the Easter Uprising. Jack is a bit of a dreamer and ends up being a paper pusher for the higher ups writing songs and propaganda for the cause.
Henry’s Granny Nash tends to be a rather surfacy character in the book. She trades information to Henry, on his father and Alfie Gandon. She spends the majority of the novel with her face buried in the books that Henry provides. She is well worn and has survived in the slums for years.
Annie is one of Henry’s lovers. Henry comes to stay with her after the Easter Uprising. She sets Henry up with a job at the docks. Annie believed her husband to be dead but he returns out of the blue leaving Henry on the streets. She then uses the wooden leg as a signal when it was safe for Henry to visit.
Climanis is a fun loving good natured, Latvian Jewish immigrant to Ireland who befriends Henry. Climanis aids the cause of the revolution through the building of pipes to create bombs. He is later killed by Alfie Gandon for marrying one of the prostitutes from the brothel and taking her away.
When Henry began to train soldiers Ivan quickly became his second in command. Ivan becomes warped by the power he has once Henry begins to do other things sets himself up a small kingdom. He threatens to kill Miss O’Shea because she is causing problems with his relationship with the police and other British authorities.
She is Miss O’Shea’s mother. She becomes and image of hospitality and respite in the novel. Her home is where Henry stays while he is out in the countryside training up little soldiers.
De Valera is another non-fictional character in the novel. A figurehead in the rebellion De Valera often held the moral of the soldiers with him. Henry actually helps De Valera escape execution.
A non-fictional character who was a primary leader of the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Uprising. He is a mentor to Henry and is credited with teaching him to read and write.
Pearse is another non-fictional leader of the Irish Citizen Army. He is one of the men that is executed after the Easter Uprising and becomes somewhat of a symbol for the rebellion.
Clarke is another non-fictional leader of the Irish Citizen Army. He is one of the men that is executed after the Easter Uprising even though he held no technical rank he was recognized as a commander.
Characters with minor roles:
Mr. Costello, Missis Drake, Mister Lipman, Thomas Ashe, Felix Harte, Paddy Swanzy
Themes and Conflicts
The Lower Class vs. The Ruling Class
There is an evident battle between the two classes. In Henry’s head throughout the entirety of the novel he broaches the notion that they aren’t just fighting for a free Ireland but rather a way to free the slum dwellers from the oppression of the British and the rich. This is obvious in the main form that Ireland is rebelling against Britain but it reaches even further than that because the Irish are seen as lesser than the British and oppressed.
Crime, Murder, Organized Crime:
Crime and especially organized crime is essential to this novel. Without it the entire rebellion would not have lasted it became the way that the poor could fight back against the government. The crime is not depicted in a poor light. It rather takes the tone of daily life just an event that is necessary to survive. Killing becomes almost as normal as eating or drinking in the novel. Crime is present from the beginning of the book to the end Henry’s father kills and protects a brothel and Henry himself executes people and uses various other forms of terrorism for the cause of the rebellion.
Memory/Fantasy of Good Things:
Much of the Henry’s memories are of things he was fond of. His father lived on throughout the book till the very end because Henry never let the desire of being close to his father disappear. Henry even fights in the Uprising upon the thoughts of his little brother who he cared very deeply about. These memories and fantasies of better things to come are Henry’s driving force even though he is living in the violence of a rebellion.
This is important in terms of Henry’s life and his father’s each becomes a tool for killing. They become very good at what they due because they are no dumb men but they are naïve. This naivety makes the easy to manipulate. Henry Sr. becomes trapped by the naïve idea that Dolly Oblong and he could be together and because he thrusts himself in to the work so fully he loses sight of the truth. Henry Jr. on the other end goes about killing mindlessly. Then when he gets caught he realizes he is trapped because of his naivety.
There are a few predictions that could be made in regards to the novel. Due to the early tension in the novel it leads us to believe that there will soon be an all out rebellion in Ireland in which Henry will play a significant role. As with most war stories war doesn't come without a cost so a reasonable assumption is that during this war, something terrible may occur with Henry or one of those close to him. There is also the possibility that Henry will follow in his father’s footsteps.
These predictions come true but not in an expected manner. There is a war but it is fought guerilla style. There is a lot of aggression but it tends to be masked or done secretively with small special ops. groups. Henry does in the end lose his friend David Climanis but not because of the war. Climanis was ordered killed by Alfie Gandon for taking one of his prostitutes and marrying her. Henry in the end does follow in his father’s footsteps he is a killer he even uses the same weapon. Henry even does some killing for Gandon. While there are other predictions that could be made these are the apparent ones.
"Three years on a stolen bike. Through wind, rain, and bullets. Henry Smart struck strange, hard blows for Ireland and disappeared." (Doyle 218)
"There's killing and getting caught and there's killing and not getting caught," Henry tells a group of young recruits. "And there's killing the fellas who are paid to catch you." (Doyle 237)
“Where were the three wise men? Where were the sheep and the shepherds? They missed it, the fucking eejits. They missed the birth of Henry Smart, Henry S. Smart, the one and only me.” (26)
Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.