The voice is the authentic voice of Irish childhood. My friend 'Karl' writes stories about Ireland and I could here his voice in the way Doyle uses language. The words and the syntax have an authentic Irish lilt to them.
To capture the essence of young Paddy Clarke, the narrative rambles. Paddy is simply too young, or too clever, to keep his thoughts in a single track. He may be describing the building of a new housing estate but that segues into how the cows were taken from the farm in a lorry and how Uncle Eddie, the farmer's brother, hit a cow with a stick when it slipped in the mud and how he used to run down the road to get the evening paper for his brother. He may be talking about the naming of their football team but this progresses into the boys investigating the first names of their mothers. A dreadful family outing in da's new car (which he hasn't yet learned to drive) in the pouring rain has all the elements of family life including the tension between ma and da, the relationship between Sinbad and Paddy, and the fact the when little Sinbad wouldn't ever smile for his photograph.
It sounds like a nightmare. Just stream of consciousness rambling. But it allows Doyle to explore his characters in all their complexities; it allows him to build a picture of his people from all the possible angles so that we see them as real, with faults and frailties and strengths and needs. There is no shirking the genuineness of the people portrayed. The structure of this book is hidden deep down. It is not so much a narrative as an atmosphere. As childhood progresses the dark clouds slowly gather and innocence becomes maturity.
A stunning portrayal of childhood well worth the 1993 Booker Prize.
It is difficult to select quotations from this book because so much of the brilliance is diffused across the pages but here are a few samples:
- "Jesus had his head tilted sideways, a bit like a kitten."
- "She was Mister O'Connell's girlfriend, although she wasn't a girl at all; she'd been a woman for ages."
- "Kevin turned his back to the sea and the wind and lit the match. He turned and saved the flame by the shield of his hand. I loved the way he could do that."
- "When my da was standing up he stood perfectly still. His feet clung to the ground. They only moved when he was going somewhere. My ma's feet were different. They didn't settle. They couldn't make their minds up."
- "She let go of my leg. She always said nothing when she was being annoyed. She clicked and pointed."
- "He was younger than me, and smaller. Safe smaller; he'd never be able to kill me, even if he was a brilliant fighter."
- "My ma said that you should chew the food well before you swallowed it. I never did; it was a waste of time and boring."
- "I looked for lipstick on his collar ... There wasn't any. I wondered, anyway, why there'd be lipstick on the collar. Maybe the women were bad shots in the dark."
- "They were both to blame. It took two to tango. It didn't take three; there was no room for me."
February 2019; 282 pages
Irish fiction reviewed in this blog:
- Strumpet City by James Plunkett: a book about the poor in Dublin in the early 20th Century
- Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the sequel to Angela's Ashes: an Irish exile in New York
- Dubliners by James Joyce: the classic short stories
- Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgworth: a classic first published in 1800
- Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle: a boy grows up in Ireland
- The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan: set in the recession of the early 21st Century