Paddy Clarke is ten years old. He lives in Dublin, in the fictional north side Barrytown, with his little brother Sinbad, who wears a patch on one eye to help the other lazy one, a mother always busy with his two baby sisters, and a father always busy reading his newspaper. It's the 60's and a child's life takes place mostly outside, in the streets or in the fields which still surround the area, playing football, stealing from the shops just for the dare, exploring the near building site, always looking for danger.
It's a tough world. Teachers can still beat kids up. Bullies are respected and even emulated. But for Paddy the scariest threat is at home, where the fights between his parents are whispered, night after night, while he's in bed, trying to shut them out, or to magically make them stop with his thoughts.
This book is a trip in Paddy's mind. A sort of childish stream of consciousness. Facts, memories, events, questions and dialogues, all follow one another with no apparent logic. It's a truthful way of capturing a child's world, his way of thinking, his heroes (Geronimo, the leper priest, George Best...), his fears.
Specifically, what Roddy Royle does really well is showing how incomprehensible the grown up world seems to a child. How senseless and illogical.
Why didn't he like Ma? She liked him, it was him that didn't like her. What was wrong with her? Nothing. She was lovely looking, though it was hard to tell for sure. She made lovely dinners (...) There must have been a reason why he hated Ma. There must have been something wrong with her, at least one thing. I couldn't see it. I wanted to. I wanted to understand. I wanted to be on both sides. he was my Da.
The child's perspective feels so real, Doyle sticks to it so firmly you almost think that a child wrote it.
Maybe this was also the reason why I couldn't enjoy it completely. I struggled to finish it even though I enjoy some parts very much. What it lacked was fluidity. It felt fragmented, there was no common thread that usually keeps me interested and wanting to read more.
Sometimes I wished the flashes of stories that were told would go on longer, that became part of a whole. But to me they never did.
Some dialogues were really funny and reminded me why I love his other Barrytown books so much. But with this, I never felt completely absorbed and I was glad when I read the last page.
That said I didn't give up on him. I still have to read two of his books. "The woman who walked into doors" and "Paula Spencer". One day, when I'll read them, I'll let you know if they lived up to the expectations.
Other Blog Reviews
Nymeth at Things mean a lot
Kristi at Passion for the page