BOOK REVIEW: Smile by Roddy Doyle

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Review by Gabriel Brown

While this is not the kind of novel I regularly read, this book highly intrigued me and left me wanting more.

I’ll admit I had to take my time with Smile. The first 80-90 pages took some work and I put this down to the time jumps Doyle utilises. Upon looking back, I’m not sure what it was; it was likely my attitude towards a book such as this, which is atypical of my usual reading choice – with dialogue written differently to what I’ve come to expect from books.

Speaking of the dialogue, the way Doyle writes is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Instead of the usual open and closing of speech marks, he uses a dash to start his new speech, but never indicates where it ends. In a sense this works, as it encourages readers to pay attention and hang on every word, but for people unfamiliar with this style, it is slightly jarring and I admit I didn’t overly like it.

With time, Doyle’s writing becomes familiar –  both the way he portrays dialogue and the time jumps. As I said, I really got into the book around 90 pages in (although this was a shame considering the whole thing is about 215 pages total). I seemed to gain interest when the dialogue thinned and I grew more accustomed to his style.

I don’t want to spoil the end but it certainly confused me. It ends rather suddenly after soaring high for its last 115 pages and it left me both baffled and wanting more. I liked it and I didn’t. It made sense but then it didn’t. It’s hard to describe my overall feelings regarding the story’s direction. I think a re-read of this book would enable me to fully understanding the plot.

I will definitely be going onto read more of Doyle’s work – and with more knowledge of his writing – I will hopefully like them a lot. The way he describes his characters and describes their memories, makes them virtually real. You can imagine seeing these sorts of people in daily life, and (unnecessary gratuitous details aside) believe that the love story created here is a real thing too. But why oh why does almost every book have to go into such pointless details regarding romance? This slightly puts me off what was actually one of my favourite sections of the whole thing!

Doyle’s Smile is a curious piece of work, but the sooner you get into his style the better. You bond with that, and the book responds accordingly, drawing you into the highly interesting story. While the second half is far, far, stronger than the first in my eyes, the whole thing is enjoyable nonetheless.

Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit