A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle

If you have never offered your eight(ish) year old child the books comprising Roddy Doyle's Rover Trilogy (the first one being The Giggler Treatment), do so as soon as possible. My own boys adore them, and so this Christmas we bought them Doyle's newest book for kids--A Greyhound of a Girl (Scholastic, 2011, 169 pages). We had to order it from England, as it's not out here in the US till May 1, and it didn't arrive in time. This turned out to be for the best, because it is very different from the Rover books...it's not a book I'd give to an eight year old boy (but definitely one for an 11 year old, or a forty year old, or a sixty year old...etc).

It tells of a twelve year old Irish girl named Mary, who meets her great grandmother one day while walking home from school. Mary doesn't realize at first that this friendly woman, named Tansey, is a. a ghost b. her great grandmother, who died when her own daughter was only three, but it soon becomes clear. Mary's dear gran, Emer (Tansey's daughter), is in the hospital, waiting to die...and Tansey, who has done her best to keep a loving watch over her daughter, wants to go comfort her, and tell her that everything will be grand. But hospitals are not easy places for a ghost to visit alone, so she'll need help from Mary, and her mother, Scarlett, to spring Emer from her bed for quick visit. And then the quick visit turns into a beautiful road trip of trans- generational love, when the four of them make a surreptitious midnight journey to the old farm where Emer was born, and Tansey died (with a stop for ice cream by the seaside).

Although Mary is the central character, Doyle gives us pieces of the lives of the other three women, It is a short book, but long enough for Doyle to make them all real, and funny (this being a family of smart alecks), and lovable...It is a sad story (I had to go find the nearest of my boys, and hug him very hard--he was surprised, but cooperative, once I explained about the poor mama who died), but not heartbreakingly so. It is much, much more about love than it is about loss.

Doyle is absolutely brilliant at dialogue (of which there is lots). Because so much of the book is told in short, snappy conversations, and even the descriptions and reminiscences are told with beautiful simplicity, it's easy to imagine a child loving the book, and identifying strongly with Mary. But it works pretty darn well as a book for grownups too (my husband loves it too).

And Tansey is just about my favorite fictional ghost ever (not that I've ever known any non-fictional ones). She's the sort of ghost that one really would be happy to meet.

(pause while I go through the book, getting caught up in re-reading bits, looking for a quote that will capture the cozy, poignant, brilliance of Tansey. Frustration ensues--I want to start retyping the whole thing. Vaguely satisfactory bit found on pages 88-89, and reprinted in snipped form below with the caveat that it doesn't do anything justice, especially not Tansey)

"Tansey looked at Mary's big eyes looking at her. She could tell. Mary wanted to ask her a question.

"Ask away," said Tansey. "Ask away."

"Well," said Mary. "Like. Why are there ghosts?"

"Do you mean," said Tansey, "why do I exist?"

"That sounds a bit rude, Mary," said Scarlett.

"It's fine," said Tansey. "It's not even a bit rude."

"Oh good!" said Scarlett. "Because I wanted to ask it as well!"

[snip. Tansey talks about being a ghost. Mary's two big brothers come into the kitchen]

"We're talking about death, boys!" said Scarlett.

"Cool," said Dommo.

"These are the famous boys, are they?" said Tansey.

"That's right!" said Scarlett. "Dominic and Kevin! Boys, this is Tansey, your- well- neighbor!"


They were gone, back out, before they'd even made it to the fridge. Mary listened to the noise going back up the stairs.

"Too many women in the room," said Tansey. "They couldn't cope."

"You're probably right!"

"Oh, I am," said Tansey. "I didn't even have to be a ghost. Was my James like those two lads?"

"My mother says he was a scamp!" said Scarlett.

"Oh good," said Tansey."

(Scarlett is well aware, by the way, that she speaks with too many !!!!. Mary points it out to her).

Anyway. It's a lovely book, one that is truly satisfying. You can find further confirmation of this in The Guardian and The Telegraph.


  1. I just realized that I never commented on your lovely review, when it's the thing that put the book on my radar to begin with! I LOVED this book, and I'm planning to give it to my grandmother for Christmas. The dialogue is, as you say, just right.

    1. I'm so glad you liked it, and I hope your grandmother does too! What a nice grandchild, to give her good books!


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