Autobibliography by Rob Doyle: A funny trawl though the 52 books that made him

The novelist’s formative reading experiences make for a smorgasbord of delights

Author: Rob Doyle
ISBN-13: 978-1800750524
Publisher: Swift Press
Guideline Price: £12.99

Regular readers of these book pages will recall that throughout 2019 (aka “the before times”) Rob Doyle contributed a weekly column under the tag line Old Favourites, in which the acclaimed author re-read and wrote about some of his formative influences. Well, here are all 52 entries collected under one roof, with added interpolated “memories and reflections on books, reading and writing, and the life through which they’ve flowed” punctuating each entry.

The result is a bracing smorgasbord of literary delights and oversharing, ranging from the oldest, first century BC Buddhist text Dhammapada (No 33), to the most recently written, Emmanuel Carrère’s “post-fictional” The Adversary (No 35), by way of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (No 11) and JG Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (No 47).

Not all of the following additions relate directly to the preceding text, or only tangentially so: Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation (No 18) is followed by a summary of the London addresses at which Doyle has resided.

Regarding his reading habits, Doyle’s preference is for “non-fiction, including criticism, philosophy, aphorisms, history and books about what the internet is doing to me ... autobiographical writing of all sorts … novels that don’t act like novels”. He explains: “If all that’s going on is yarn-spinning, with narrative proffered as an end in itself, I’ll sit there thinking, ‘What’s the point of this? . . . if there are no ideas charging through them I get restless.’” Borges (No 49) is nominated as “his century’s greatest writer”.


If this all sounds a little too heavy, be aware that humour is not least among the components in Doyle’s armoury. There is a riff on Schopenhauer’s (No 5) “A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short”; a couple of forays in self-criticism where he finds himself on “the wrong side of history”; a skewering of the culture of literary prizes; a hilarious ahistorical RD interview with La Rochefoucauld (No 45); and an extended analogy between the Brazilian 1970 World Cup team and Latin American literature, in terms of “outrageous and ingenious embellishment”.

Because of his aesthetic judgments and general worldview, Rob Doyle is certainly the younger Irish male writer (younger than I am, that is) with whom I feel most affinity.