Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Complete Booker 2010 Challenge: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

(This book also counts toward the Decades 2010 Challenge, representing the 1990s.)

Okay, now for a book I really liked!

If you ever wondered what it was like to be a Catholic 10-year-old in 1960's small town Ireland, this book will take you there from word one. It's a rough-and-tumble experience, being Paddy Clarke, complete with writing your name in wet cement, playing with matches, making fun of teachers and other people, lots of running about with your friends, and getting only hints and glimmers about the adult world that takes place all around you and over your head. You're a little hooligan, perhaps, but with a childish exuberance that keeps your daredevil adventures solidly in the minor category of Just Kids Having Fun.

Sometimes I have trouble with a story that purports to be told from a child's perspective but manages to slip in lots of writerly phrases and mature insights that a child couldn't possibly be party to. Once I catch that, my suspension of disbelief evaporates and I start skeptically watching for similar slips. But this book is flawless. When adult things happen, Doyle consistently gets the details right: Paddy is a sharp enough observer that the reader can suss out what's probably happening, but Paddy himself doesn't understand.

The biggest adult thing that's happening is that Paddy's parents are getting ready to split up. Paddy senses the gathering storm and tries his own semi-magical method (staying awake all night) to stop his folks from arguing. Of course, it doesn't work. In the cascade of changes that follow, Paddy starts his journey out of childhood which, we realize almost too late, has really been innocent, after all.


I didn't know what was happening when it started to get more grey than dark; it was more frightening than the dark. It was dawn. Then the birds started. I was on guard. I was making sure that they didn't start again; all I had to do was stay awake. Like St Peter when Jesus was in the Garden. St Peter kept falling asleep but I didn't, not even once. I made a corner in the bed, and sat up in the dark.


  1. This wasn't my favourite Doyle novel, even though I recognize its high quality. Glad you enjoyed it! Have you read The Barrytown Trilogy? The Snapper is one of my favourite books in the world.

  2. No, Colleen, I haven't read it. I think I can imagine it, though--Doyle sure can create atmosphere. I might have to read it, now!

  3. Roddy Doyle is wonderful at taking one back to a place and time. I think I've read most of his novels - my favorite is a 'A Star Called Henry'. I also enjoyed 'The Van' and 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.' If enjoy is the right word. His humor is always dark-edged.


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