Two for the Road

Roddy Doyle

Vintage, £8.99

SO these two ageing Dubliners walk into a bar ...

Two for the Road, the latest book by the man who gave the world The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van and the Booker-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, is a slender volume, picking up where its predecessors, Two Pints. and Two More Pints, left off. Like them, it is very funny.

Its two anonymous protagonists, old friends, meet regularly in a Dublin pub for a few pints. Their conversations, here from July 2014 to March of this year, are prompted at random by news stories – the election of Trump, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the November 2015 terror attacks on Paris, Ireland's marriage equality referendum, Scotland's own indyref.

Other conversations revolve around the death of a celebrity: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glen Campbell, Maureen O'Hara, Prince, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin. And, sometimes, all is takes is the fact that George Clooney has taken himself off the market and got hitched to Amal Alamuddin.

Such is Doyle's gift for dialogue that it is not difficult to hear the rhythm of the dialogue – crisp, relaxed and naturalistic, liberally sprayed with four-letter words – as you read the book. The Clooney conversation is a good example, the friends lamenting the effect that the actor's selfishness has had on their respective wives.

"Jesus, man. It's like a morgue," one says of the atmosphere at home. "Same in my place", says the other.

And a few moments later: "... What he's done – what he's after doin' – it's worse than f**kin' climate change, so it is ... The world needs at least one good-lookin' bachelor that isn't actually gay. A man who's gettin' better lookin' as he gets older.

"The women," he declares with feeling, "need to know there's always someone else – a bit better, like – out there."

"And now there isn't", the other muses. "Exactly. Because tha' fkin' eejit has gone an' upset the natural order o' things."

It's not quite the same without the vigorous use of four-letter words, but you get the idea. Doyle, incidentally, was once asked why the F-word and C-word cropped up so often in the Pints books: "Because they [the lads] do", he responded. "And because I do."

One dialogue is touched off by the 2016 centenary of the Easter Uprising. One of the duo ponders whether he would have been in Dublin's GPO back in 1916 and concludes that, no, he wouldn't: at his age, the toilet facilities - "the jacks" - are important to him.

The fate of a hapless RTE news reporter, soaked to the skin on camera while covering Storm Desmond, is bracketed alongside the bravery of journalists who covered conflict in Vietnam, Belfast and Biafra.

The two men seem to be interchangeable. We never know which one of them initiates which particular conversation. Not that it matters, not when you're caught up in the argot (it might take you a moment to realise that "Shinners" is shorthand for Sinn Fein.)

As old friends do whenever they share a pint or two, conversations turn on a dime. Doyle's protagonists discuss domestic life and current affairs. They exchange sly little digs, talk with affection about their kids and grandkids, and quote lines from their favourite films ("fillums"). There's the occasional glimpse into their younger selves: one of the men once painted his face in the distinctive manner of Bowie's Aladdin Sane character.

Their wives remain off-stage but are referred to, now and then. The men visualise Barry Manilow and his new husband sitting in bed with their Kindles, or chatting about football "instead of havin' to pretend to be listenin' to her goin' on about her health or the state we're leavin' the world in for our grandkids, an' all tha' sh***."

It's the kind of book that you read in public at your own risk. On an unfortunately busy train I laughed out loud when one of the friends begins a conversation by saying that he had been watching Game of Thrones, "so me head was full o' swords an' t--s".

"We live in a golden age o' television drama," comes the astute rejoinder.