27 February 2010

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Thoughts and Reflections:
I was recommended this book by a book shop keeper in Dublin when I was there last March. When I’m in a different country, I often like to ask locals for their favourite books, best recommendations, or the best/iconic national author. This friendly shopkeeper lit up when I asked for her recommendations for great Irish authors. She pulled out Roddy Doyle among other (John Banville being another, but that is a blog for another day). To be honest, I chose Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha because of the cover.
I tried to read the novel later in spring of 2009, but, much like with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the timing just wasn’t right and I couldn’t engage with the novel. I had a hard time understanding the point. There is no real structure to the novel: no chapters, no real breaks, there is little continuity between events. So, I shelved it until February 2010. I certainly found it more engaging this time around. However, for much of the book, I felt like I was grasping to understand. Most of the book felt pointless. Only in the last 50 pages or so, did I really start to understand. In hindsight, the last 50 pages wouldn’t have had the same impact without the previous 230 pages. The disconnected events provide insight into Patrick’s life and describe how he sees and experiences the world. A review of the book in the Guardian (August 2009 -Link Here) discusses that "though the book is narrated in the past tense, these narrative fragments are told without the understanding that comes with hindsight. It is a narrative that replicates experience rather than memory.Patrick the narrator is allowed to understand no more than Patrick the character." This aspect certainly adds an interesting element to the book. Does it reveal that our dear Patrick never really grew up, that he is stunted as a 10 year old?
The protagonist, Patrick, is certainly an interesting little character. On the one hand, I loved him and hurt for him. On the other hand, I hated him, thinking him cruel. The ending hurts, to be sure. I did not understand to course of action take by Patrick, but I don’t suppose I was meant to understand. I also had a hard time believing that this 8-10 year old boy was as intuitive as he was made out to be. I don’t have children of my own, nor interact with children very often, but I didn’t know how realistic it was for a child of this age to understand the world around him with such depth. Few of the characters were likable. The only ones I found myself drawn to were Patrick’s mother and his brother. This window into the life and mentality of little boys was even somewhat disheartening. Most of the adults in this novel were also mean and uncaring, but perhaps this was simply the perspective of Patrick.
I enjoyed how this novel provided a glimpse into life near Dublin for an Irish child. At the same time, the picture that is depicted is not an alluring one. This novel is not in anyway promoting tourism or immigration to Ireland. I would certainly be interested to hear a response from someone from Ireland, especially Dublin, on this book.

The Author:
Roddy Doyle is a Dublin native, born in 1958. He received a Bachelor degree from the University of Dublin and became an English teacher before beginning to write and publish novels. Some of his novels have been made into films. The most popular being The Commitments in 1991. He no longer lives in Ireland, but rather in Monte Carlo. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Man Booker Prize in 1993.

Brief Synopsis:
This novel is from the point of view of an 8-10 year old boy in Dublin, Patrick, who is fondly called Paddy. Events take place in the 1960s. Most of the novel follows his around in various activities that boys get involved in. Patrick is painfully aware of the deterioration of his parent’s marriage. He desperately seeks to keep them from fighting and keep them together. As he despairs, he attempts to draw closer to his younger brother, Francis, and away from his gang of friends. The book begins with tales of boys at play, though slowly alters to the more serious issues of Patrick relationship with his parents, thus taking on a darker, more embittered tone.

Point of Interest:
This book is called bildungsroman, which means it focuses on the development of the protagonist. Truly, in this novel, the main character is the only character we can even partially understand. All other characters are seen and experienced through him. Ironically, this character may be well developed, but he does not grow.

Working class society: The book describes the different housing strata in Barrytown, Dublin. The difference between living in town and in corporation housing is discussed. The boys weren’t to mingle with kids from the corporation housing, as they were considered to be rough and troublesome.

Childhood: This novel explored the activities boys. The characters reveal cruel tendencies towards each other, are highly competitive with each other, and reveal a willingness to betray one another. At the same time, often their activities simply reveal youthful innocence.

Disillusionment with authority: Patrick regularly and often deliberately comes into conflict with figures of authority. In the opening scene, he and his gang of friends taunt the guard of a construction site. Patrick expresses little regard for his teachers, especially Mr Hennessey. At the same time, Patrick seems to be seeking approval from these figures, or at least he seeks to not disappoint.

Child-Parent relationships: Patrick craved the approval and love of both his parents. Gradually, he seems to be losing respect for his father, not agreeing with what his father is doing. He eventually labels his father a bastard.

Struggle for power: Patrick begins to mimic a classmate, who he considered strong and independent, not one to mess with or push around. This is an attempt for Patrick to empower himself in the battle to, either protect his mother against his father, or to stop them fighting and keep the peace.

Maturation: Patrick is robbed of youthful innocence as he becomes aware of the physical abuse that is occurring between his parents.

Isolation and alienation: Though throughout the novel Patrick plays with a gang of boys, by the end of the novel he has deliberately isolated himself. His isolation is a response to troubles at home and he models his isolation after a classmate. He expresses this as what he really all along. Up until the end of the novel, Patrick had been exceedingly cruel to his brother. At the end, he seeks a closer relationship with Francis, his brother, who rejects his offer. Patrick is then completely isolated, which seems to be a shock to him. He did not seem to understand the full impact of his deliberate isolation.

Things I Loved About This Book:
1) The brief mention of Canada. I always get a kick out of this.
2) The use of Irish
3) The discussion of a child’s response to household trouble

1 comment:

ashmitasaha said...

lovely post, though it reading the text strained my eyes a little :-)

I loved the book myself and fell in love with the boy in spite of all his mischief. I think Doyle's style is very warm even though it appears disjointed. I penned down my thoughts in greater detail here http://www.book-review-circle.com/paddy-clarke-ha-ha-ha-roddy-doyle.html