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Paula Spencerby Roddy Doyle
Synopses & Reviews
In this new novel, set in contemporary Dublin, Roddy Doyle returns to Paula Spencer ("One of Doyle's finest creations" — Toronto Star), the beloved heroine of the bestselling The Woman Who Walked into Doors, with spectacular results.
Paula Spencer begins on the eve of Paula's forty-eighth birthday. She hasn't had a drink for four months and five days. Having outlived an abusive husband and father, Paula and her four children are now struggling to live their adult lives, with two of the kids balancing their own addictions. Knowing how close she always is to the edge, Paula rebuilds her life slowly, taking pride in the things she accomplishes, helped sometimes by the lists she makes to plan for the future.
As she goes about her daily routine working as a cleaning woman, and cooking for her two children at home, she re-establishes connections with her two sisters, her mother and grandchildren, expanding her world. She discovers the latest music, the Internet and text-messaging, treats herself to Italian coffees, and gradually ventures beyond her house, where she's always felt most comfortable. As Paula thinks of herself, She's a new-old woman, learning how to live.
Doyle has movingly depicted a woman, both strong and fragile, who is fighting back and finally equipped to be a mother to her children — but now that they're mostly grown up, is it too late? Doyle's fans and new readers alike will root for Paula to stay clean and find a little healing for herself and her children, amidst the threat that it may all go wrong.
"The heroine of Doyle's 1996 bestseller, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, returns long widowed (abusive husband Charlo having been killed fleeing the Irish police) and four months sober. Those absences and old relationships mark the year we follow in Paula's new life: she worries that her daughter, Leanne, is following in her footsteps; negotiates her resentment of her bossy older daughter, Nicola; and reconciles with her son, John Paul, now a recovering heroin addict with two kids of his own. Doyle, Booker Winner for Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha and author of The Commitments, does a lot in this novel by doing little: it is John Paul's quiet distance, for example, that serves as a constant reminder of the horrendous mother and pitiful alcoholic Paula used to be. The newfound prosperity of Ireland affects Paula's day-to-day life on the bottom of the economic scale — which suddenly looks a lot different. Paula's inner life lacks subtler shades, and her outer life is full of tiring work, abstinence from liquor and family. These aren't elements that automatically make for a have-to-read novel, but in this wholly and vividly imagined case, they do." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Ten years ago, in his superb novel 'The Woman Who Walked into Doors,' the Irish writer Roddy Doyle introduced his readers to Paula Spencer, a tough, passionate, alcoholic Irishwoman with a foul mouth and an unsparing working-class wit. As the book opens, the police inform Paula that her estranged husband, Charlo, has been shot and killed while committing robbery and murder. From there, the book swoops... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) back and forth through episodes of Paula's life: her mostly happy childhood; her whirlwind courtship with Charlo; their marriage and their four children; and, most important, the 17 years of violent abuse she suffered at the hands of Charlo, whom she continued to love until the day he died. In the book's harrowing climactic scene, Paula finally clobbers her wretched husband with a frying pan and throws him out of the house forever. The novel was, as I said in these pages 10 years ago, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, an unsentimental yet not hopeless account of an ordinary woman living a very hard life. Now, in Doyle's new novel, 'Paula Spencer,' life is better for Paula, but not by much. Still cleaning houses for a living, she's worked her way up to supervisor, making more money than she ever has before, but otherwise her entire life is like a good news/bad news joke. She's a recovering alcoholic with a recent and hard-won sobriety, but she still craves the booze. Her oldest daughter, Nicola, has grown up to become a successful if stressed middle-class businesswoman, but her oldest son, John Paul, disappeared for years into heroin addiction — though he, too, is in recovery and has recently renewed contact with Paula. Her two other children still live with Paula, and while Leanne has become an alcoholic like her mother, the youngest, Jack, is a smart, sensitive and largely untroubled boy, though he has learned from hard experience not to trust or rely on his mother. And, finally, while Paula no longer has a violent husband who beats her regularly, she has no man in her life at all and hasn't had one since Charlo died. If 'Paula Spencer' doesn't quite reach the heights or plumb the depths that the earlier book did, it's only because the first novel was richer by design, encompassing through flashbacks the whole of Paula's life, and more inherently dramatic, since it centered on the appalling violence inflicted on its narrator. As a result, 'The Woman Who Walked into Doors' was necessarily more complex, with an artfully jumbled chronology and long blocks of pure exposition in Paula's own voice, evoking a more accessible version of the high Irish modernism of Joyce and Beckett. 'Paula Spencer,' on the other hand, returns to the simpler, less inflected style of Doyle's earlier, more lighthearted novels of Irish working-class life, 'The Commitments,' 'The Snapper' and 'The Van.' Told in the third person instead of the earlier novel's pungent first person, 'Paula Spencer' is largely chronological, following one year of Paula's life, from her 48th birthday to her 49th, and it is largely made up of extended scenes between Paula and her children, her friends and her two lively sisters, Carmel and Denise. If it's less harrowing and artistically pyrotechnic than the earlier book, that's only because Paula's life, thank God, is much calmer than it was before. The book's simpler rhythms reflect the more forgiving spirit of middle age. Lest this sound like faint praise, let me add that reading 'Paula Spencer' is pure, undiluted pleasure, and it's not necessary to have read the first novel to thoroughly enjoy this one. Paula is still a very funny woman (and her sharp-tongued sister Carmel is even funnier), and Doyle himself is still the master of the extended set-piece. There's a lunch scene with Paula and her two sisters that goes on for 20 pages, and I read it twice, just because it was such fun and so beautifully crafted. In between the tart, sisterly wisecracks, Paula the recovering alcoholic watches her sisters drink: 'Denise pours some of the Ballygowan (mineral water) into her wine glass. She's over the hump, Paula guesses. Now she's just thirsty. Paula's thirsty all the time. She lowers the water, day and night. She brings a plastic bottle with her, with tap water, whenever she thinks of it; when she remembers. And it's the thing that's there when the situation is tricky. ... When the talk is awkward, the past or the present — it's the roaring thirst. The dry throat that actually takes over her whole body. And it's not alcohol; that's not what she needs — that's a different one. It's just water — dehydration. But it's nearly the same need. She can't cope until she feels the water crawling down through her, and up to the place behind her forehead, the pain there, and the joints right below her ears. Like oil. Calming her, softening the dry edges.' In the end, it would be a stretch to say that Paula is happy now. None of her children trusts her entirely; she still works at a physically demanding job that would tax a woman half her age, and, most of all, she still wrestles every moment with her sobriety, with her guilt for the way she failed her children and with her loneliness. She is, however, happier, and Doyle recognizes that it's often the people with the most difficult lives who cling to hope the hardest — who know that contentment, if it comes at all, comes an inch at a time. James Hynes is the author, most recently, of the novel 'Kings of Infinite Space.'" Reviewed by James Hynes, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Though the narrative might meander a tad much, this deeply empathetic novel comes to a suitably indeterminate ending." Houston Chronicle
"[Doyle's] dialogue, thick with Dublinese, expertly evokes the working-class Irish milieu. Although the third-person narration will make some readers miss Paula's voice, this is Paula's story — and it's grand." Booklist
"The four grown Spencer offspring, Paula's two sisters, and a promising romantic interest make up an entertaining supporting cast. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Paula Spencer does for alcoholism what The Woman Who Walked Into Doors did for domestic violence: makes it real for those lucky to have no firsthand experience of it." San Francisco Chronicle
"A splendid sequel....With The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and Paula Spencer, there is the sense of another grand franchise in the making." Seattle Times
"This novel is a welcome return to form for Doyle." Philadelphia Inquirer
"We might think being careful would be thin material for fiction, but Doyle...has the skill and, above all, the patience to pull it off." Los Angeles Times
"Pure, undiluted pleasure" (The Washington Post) from Booker Prize- winning author Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle 's beautifully wrought tale revisits the Dublin housewife-heroine of his earlier acclaimed novel, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. Paula is now forty-seven, her abusive husband is long dead, and it's been four months and five days since she's had a drink. She cleans offices to get by and lives from paycheck to paycheck. But as she manages to get through each day sober, she begins to piece her life back together and to resurrect her family. Told with the unmistakable wit of Doyle's unique voice, this is a redemptive tale about a brave and tenacious woman.
About the Author
Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958. He is the author of 6 acclaimed novels, and Rory and Ita, a memoir of his parents. He won the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.
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