Our Read of the Week comes recommended by Reader Leader Val, who has suggested Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.
“We were coming down our road. Kevin stopped at the gate and bashed it with a stick. It was Missis Quigley’s gate; she was always looking out of her window but she never did anything.”
Like A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is a description of a Dublin childhood that recreates in deep and evocative detail the sights, sounds, smells, disappointments and delights of a gang of small boys enduring the triumphs and tragedies of growing up.
I first read this book in my early twenties and absolutely adored it. So much so that I bought a copy for a boy I had grown up with who wasn’t a great reader but I knew would love this book. Needless to say he did, he subsequently gave it to his brother to read and it became one of their favourite books.
It is set like Roddy Doyle’s previous novels, in the fictional north Dublin suburb of Barrytown. It is a boy’s own account of his childhood there in 1968, when he was 10 years old. However it is told, not with hindsight, but as if he were still 10, and Doyle’s writing perfectly captures the imaginative use of language and turns of phrase of the young Paddy Clarke. There are no chapter divisions, and the fragments assemble themselves in apparently haphazard sequences.
Paddy tells us all about Sinbad, his brother, and what brotherhood means to him, and how on warm, sunny days, he, his pals and his younger brother, Francis (nicknamed Sinbad) enjoy poking the tar bubbles in the road that runs through Barrytown:
“You burst the bubble and the clean soft tar was under there; the top was gone off the bubble — it was a volcano. Pebbles went in; they died screaming.
“No no, please — ! — don’t — ! Aaaaaaaahaaah —-“
He shows us about the daft thoughts running through his head: “Confucius he say, go to bed with itchy hole, wake up in the morning with smelly finger.” He talks us through the process of stealing from the little shop in Baldoyle :”There was another shop that invited you to rob their biscuits. It was in Baldoyle. The tins of biscuits – the loose ones –were on a ledge that ran along the counter, just under it. You could fill your pockets while the woman counted your aniseed balls…” This is Paddy Clarke’s world and Doyle brings it to life vividly and with hilarious humour.
However the novel is also a painful lament for the death of childhood – with Paddy’s dawning realisation that his parents’ marriage is falling apart “I jumped on Sinbad’s bottle. Nothing happened. I didn’t do it again. Sometimes when nothing happened it was really getting ready to happen.” Paddy Clarke senses that his world is about to change forever–and not necessarily for the better.