Patrick Clarke is a ten-year-old boy trying to make sense of his world. He is confused. His Ma and Da fight too much. School seems like a joke. And love, though it has a good reputation, seems pretty cruel. Paddy sees everything, but has trouble understanding it all. His story is an exuberant romp through the triumphs, indignities, and troublemaking detours of an Irish childhood. Written with warmth and wit by the author of The Commitments, which was made into a hit movie, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the most moving story about the humor and challenge of growing up since Catcher in the Rye.
The novel's boldest feature is its infantile style of narrative.
Roddy Doyle's book has already dead-legged the assumption that grown-ups are more interesting. To borrow the formula: 'It was sad and brilliant; I liked it.'
This novel will resonate deeply with anyone who grew up in the 1960s, but everyone will recognize a bit of their childhood, good and bad, in the lovable and irrepressible Paddy.
For the first two-thirds of this book, Roddy Doyle places the reader right in the middle of Patrick and his friends, experiencing their hijinks, and seeing the world through their eyes. I found myself reliving my own childhood, when my friends & I explored the woods behind my house, and speculated (quite erroneously) about the actions of our neighbors. And then, Patrick becomes aware that his mother and father are not getting along. He doesn't understand why, and tries desperately to correct the situation. Because the story is told entirely from Patrick's point of view, many questions go unanswered and the reader is left similarly powerless. Doyle's technique was quite effective; I desperately wanted to take Patrick aside, explain what was happening in his life, and give him a big hug. This was a touching, poignant story.
While reviews are primarily positive about this book, for many reasons, I simply reacted to the fact that it was yet another angst filled tale of an Irish child witnessing cruelty, and acting out with cruelty, harming those around him, including his younger sibling.
It is 1968 and Paddy is ten years old, his father is drinking heavily, his mother is abused, his brother is a royal pain.
He and his band of friends roam the small town setting fires at building sites, entering forbidden areas while performing various and sundry cruel beatings and taunts to each other.
Written in a hard to follow stream of consciousness style, I had a difficult time absorbing the story line.
Simply stated, I didn't like this book and cannot recommend it.
Pathos aside, this book is pretty much Angela's Ashes as narrated by Benjy from The Sound and the Fury. Just so you know.
It’s a series of short scenes, all in first person in the voice of a boy. He’s not a very nice boy either - he terrorizes his younger brother and his friends, engaging in acts of cruelty and viciousness that only kids are capable of. So Paddy Clarke is not very likable.
The novel is essentially plotless. A novel without a plot has to have something else to give it forward motion and to keep the reader interested. Doyle uses the incomplete understanding of Paddy as he watches his parents argue and his father become violent with his mother. Perhaps Paddy will turn out like his father, since he also seems to hurt those that he loves.
I have to compare it to Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. Atwood actually wraps the story of the young girl coming of age in a frame of the girl as an adult. In my opinion, a much better way to tell the story - it certainly kept my interest more than this novel, which tended to drag - I was tempted to skip ahead. If you have ever spent any time with a child of that age you will now what I mean - a little bit goes a long way.
First person narrative by a primary school child growing up in the 1960s. The child lives in an environment that is changing from a semi-rural town on the coast, into an urbanised community. Farms run by the same family for generations are being replaced by new housing developments; corner shops are clinging on, but you can sense that the threat of the supermarket is just around the corner. Aspiration is growing, along with access to consumer goods.
Irrelevant. All this is irrelevant. The child's-eye view is self centered; the changes are recognised, but only measured by the impact on my world, my horizons. How can I manipulate this situation to my advantage? Why are they doing this to me? If I do this I get a thrill, and recognition from my peers. There are stirrings of compassion (and experimentation), and fads come and go, along with alliances. And yet, measurements of one's peers are made using a yardstick that is largely based on the family. My da's got a car; his big brother has got this amazing toy; their da let's them play in every room of the house, rather than just the hall and bedroom; those lads come from a council house estate. Of course, such self-centeredness doesn't recognise cruelty, but then memories are short at that time of life. Aren't they?
I recognise so much from this tale. I had allotments at the bottom of the garden which stretched for miles until they were eaten up by the by-pass, and the new primary school, and eventually the new houses. I was sent to bed for watching the workmen constructing the by-pass rather than going straight home from school; I can point to the exact spot where my father let go of the back of my bike; I saw alliances made and broken.
I'm convinced that some of those experiences changed my life for ever, as they did for Paddy Clarke. Ha ha ha.
Roddy Doyle could have been relating a version of my childhood. It's uncanny. Accurate and consistent and poignant. I can understand why it won the Booker Prize. God, I wish I'd started reading real literature like this ages ago, instead of the science fiction and thrillers and detective stories that made up the bulk of my literary exploration. Hold on, I have read a bunch of Graham Greene, and I do remember standing in W. H. Smiths in front of the novel section, and dithering over which of the latest literary masterpieces to buy to start expanding my cultural horizons. Didn't I pick up Foucault's Pendulum?
I blame Umberto Eco.
Books written in the voice of a child had best use that technique for a reason...the child's perspective becomes wearing unless there is some very, very compelling narrative reason to make us follow a kid around without wanting to scream blue murder after a while.
I don't find any such compelling reason in this book. I don't find anything compelling at all in this book, as a matter of fact.
Ireland sounds damned good and dreary, and I am rethinking my desire to visit. I hate priests, nuns, and the Catholic Church with a vibrating Day-Glo orange passion. I'm beginning to hate all the fools and cruels who dare to become parents in Ireland, too. All the cheery Irish that exist appear to have moved here and taken up writing about the badness of Irish childhoods.
Blech. I don't want to talk about this book anymore. Read it at your peril. Why did I give it three stars? Because the writing, the descriptions, the sheer visual acuity of it makes anything less a dishonest rating, one based on my growing dislike of the country it's about, not a judgment of the book's merits.
Doyle nails the random transitions of his child narrator's mind, the relationships that skirt the emotional depth that an adult can see but a child cannot, and the affliction of younger siblings that sits side by side with love. Most impressive of all, however, is Doyle's depiction of Paddy's confusion when adult situations have outpaced his understanding of them, but only by the slimmest of margins, so that while he knows something is amiss he can't grab ahold of what, if anything, he can do to fix it. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is one of those books that, for lack of any sort of linear plot, would seem to be about nothing, but in taking a snapshot of a life, it ends up being about a little of everything.
Through Paddy's wandering child's mind, the reader is drawn into small town/outer suburban late 60s Ireland. It's not a fun place, although fun ("ha ha ha") is to be had from time to time, and Paddy is certainly not a perfect little boy: he's downright horrid a lot of the time, but that's reality for you. I mention his character flaws only because some readers found they did not like this book because of them, but they are, to my mind, an integral part of the no-holds-barred honesty of which Roddy Doyle is a master. He is not a teller of fairy-tales.
Despite this darkness, I feel genuine empathy for this strange, funny and sad little boy, desperate for his Ma and Da, both of whom he loves, not to split up. I wish him well.
In this novel Roddy Doyle excels. As we grow up, it's often too easy to forget the pains and joys of childhood - Doyle brings them into sharp focus with Paddy Clarke.
I didn't really relate to the character as much as I tried.