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Let's all shout 'But!' - Roddy Doyle

It’s the religion that annoys me, the Apostolic Church of James Joyce the Redeemer, and the priests who guard the church’s holy texts, the bowler-hatted bores who have robbed Joyce of his flaws and humanity. 

The church has an excellent library.  The books are great but you can’t read them without a priest at your shoulder, to tell you that what you are reading is holy.  The word ‘but’ is not permitted in the Church of James Joyce the Redeemer.  And don’t dare yawn or ask for permission to go to the toilet.

Charles Dickens’ work is flawed, and the better because we know it.  The flaws are a big part of Dickens’ brilliance.  His novels are never anything other than the efforts of a human being, a man under pressure to finish, a man who often let sentimentality smother his anger, a man who couldn’t really write women.  But read Great Expectations, or David Copperfield.  The characters, the wit, the pace, the sheer life of them – they are magnificent, in large part because we know they were written by someone a bit like ourselves; they are the almost physical efforts of a man who often made mistakes. 

All art, no matter how great, carries, and should carry, a ‘but’.  ‘It’s wonderful, but . . .’  The ‘but’ might seem mean-spirited.  But it’s important - it’s vital.  It’s the reminder that the art is the work of a human being, the result of hard work and brilliance, courage and luck, tenacity and error. 

No writer I can think of has suffered because of the ‘but’.  So let’s rescue Joyce from the priests.  Let’s all creep up to the front door of the church and shout ‘But!’

Then we can think about rescuing Beckett.


Roddy Doyle is a novelist, dramatist and screenwriter. His short story collection The Bullfighter appeared in 2011 and his version of Gogol's The Government Inspector was recently staged in the Abbey Theatre.

Let's all shout 'But!' - Roddy Doyle