Bullfighting: new story by Roddy Doyle

There was no sign of the bull, although there was dung in the air and—Donal saw it now—blood on the street. A topic for the phone call home in the morning.

That’s from “Bullfighting” a new Roddy Doyle short story, presently featured on the New Yorker website. In the story, Donal is a middle-aged, middle-class Irishman who is happy with his life, but occasionally has a nagging sense that there ought to be something more to it. The passage above comes just after Donal and some old friends have watched a bullfight in Valencia—but in a bar, rather than in the arena. They’ve gone on vacation, just the lads, but it’s far from an adventure out of Hemingway: for the most part, they drink and talk much as they would at home, and enjoy themselves in the same comfortable, deeply contented way. The story seems to be about the value of safety, of comfort, of boredom, and the idea that the prospect of adventure holds the strongest appeal from a position of safety and security. It’s like the Talking Heads song “Heaven,” Donal observes: nothing ever happens, and though it’s kind of dull, it’s also perfect.

Like pretty much all of Doyle’s stuff, this one is funny and carefully observed, and unfolds with a conversational, natural feel. Doyle doesn’t swing for the fences with “The Bullfighters,” and consequently he doesn’t hit a home run. But the story has its small pleasures all the same—and it also has a vivid, memorable climax that I won’t ruin for you by describing it here.

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