Review: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

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TITLE:Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
AUTHOR: Roddy Doyle
GENRE: Nostalgic mainstream fiction
COST: $15.00

The life of a ten-year-old Irish boy named Paddy Clarke, as seen through his eyes…

To call this Booker Prize-winning novel aimless misses the point of the narrative. It might seem like that. Ten-year-old boys tend to be self-involved, with attention spans that wander before they’ve crossed the street, so choosing one as the eyes and ears of the story’s events might seem counterproductive. It’s not. It’s the whole point. What Doyle has done here is recreate the rhythms of what it’s like to be a child, especially one on the verge of adolescence. He captures that driving need for escape and fun and combines it effortlessly with the vestigial beliefs in innocent hope that are so typically child-like.

Paddy is a boy just like any other normal boy his age, growing up in the Irish city of Barrytown, hanging out with his friends, tormenting his brother, setting things on fire, trying to elude punishment as he tests the world around him. Even for those unfamiliar with the setting, the atmosphere comes to life with the certainty of someone who knows nothing else. The details Paddy shares are often disjointed and break any kind of narrative flow, but they are ripe with depth in regards to what is going on, pictures into the mind of this child as he attempts to use his own experiences to make sense of the world around him. There’s a definite grit beneath the whimsy that often typifies nostalgic fiction, a result of both the setting and Paddy’s boisterous personality. It adds to the sense of verisimilitude that permeates the entire book.

To try and summarize what happens, however, would be a waste of time and space. Due to the nature of the narrator, events wander from one to the next, often without obvious connection. Some are incredibly short, only a couple paragraphs, while others go on for pages, leaving it feeling very recursive. Unfortunately, it also makes it very put-down-able. It’s easy to read a few pages, and then walk away, because life happens to you as a reader and ultimately, the same happens to Paddy.

The one thread that holds it all together – other than Paddy – is the gradual disintegration of his parents’ marriage. Paddy’s relationship to them is never as clear as it is to his friends, and he clings to a fervent sense of denial in regards to what is happening between them. As an outsider, you’re never sure entirely what is going on, but then again, neither is Paddy. This both compounds the realism of the POV and exacerbates the wandering action that makes it all too easy to set aside the book. It’s an excellent exercise and a brilliant perspective into the mind of a ten-year-old boy. I’m just not convinced it’s an excellent story.