Book Review: Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle


Paula Spencer (2006) is a recent novel by one of my favorite authors Roddy Doyle.  It’s a sequel to an earlier novel called the The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. In that earlier novel the title character dealt with sever physical abuse from her husband Charlo. I read this book over a decade ago so I don’t remember it well beyond the fact that it moved me to tears and that it was written in first person from Paula’s voice. This new novel is in third person, but it works effectively. A lot of the novel follows Paula in her daily life and decisions with series of sentences beginning with “She…” It creates a poetic repetition that emphasizes how vital every moment is in Paula’s recovery.

In Paula Spencer, it’s ten years later, and with Charlo long dead, it’s a challenge for Doyle to make Paula a sympathetic character.  She’s a survivor but she’s no saint.  In fact her abuse of alcohol has gravely affected her family and friends.  The novel follows Paula in her first year of sobriety as she tries to rebuild her life.  There’s John Paul who had run away and become addicted to heroin, now clean and married with children who is tentatively trying to reconnect to his mother.  There’s Nicola who took care of the family while Paula was drunk, who has now made a good life for herself but still resents and mistrusts Paula.  There’s Leanne still living at home and following Paula’s footsteps into alcoholism.  And there’s the teenage Jack, who’s typically remote from his mother and atypically wise.

The world around her has changed too as the Celtic Tiger has swept over Dublin bringing coffee shops and cell phones.  When Paula goes to her job cleaning offices she now works alongside immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe.  With sobriety she also gains more responsibility as a supervisor as well as some extra money to save for the future.

This book deals honestly and without sentimentality with a lot of issues: family, addiction, social change and life in general.  It also is uproariously funny at times.  Doyle is a master of dialog.  I highly recommend reading this book or listening to the audiobook beautifully read by Irish actress Ger Ryan.

Other books I’ve read by Roddy Doyle include: The Barrytown Trilogy, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, A Star Called Henry, Oh, Play That Thing, and The Deportees.  Reviews are online at LibraryThing.

Author Doyle, Roddy, 1958-
Title Paula Spencer [sound recording] / by Roddy Doyle.
Publication Info. North Kingstown, RI : BBC Audiobooks America, p2006.
Description 6 sound discs (6 hr., 49 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in

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