Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

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Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A wonderfully written and captivating story that exposes the mind of a ten-year-old boy in a way no ten year old could. A book that deserved the Booker prize it received.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099535089

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I'm kind of a reverse literary snob, in that I tend to avoid books that win awards. I've found that such books are often very well written, but they're not always good reading. As shameful as it is to admit, I would much rather read for story as for fancy words. Clearly I'm not alone, as in 1993, the year Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize, the bestseller lists contained John Grisham, Sue Townsend and Jeffrey Archer.

Paddy Clarke is a normal ten-year-old boy. He hates school, loves playing where he shouldn't and torments his younger brother whenever he can. He gets into all sorts of mischief and occasionally into trouble, leading to beatings from his father and teacher. However, disturbing Paddy's carefree youth is the feeling that all isn't quite right at home, with increasing arguments between his parents upsetting his peace of mind.

I love the way Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is written. Roddy Doyle somehow sees clearly through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy. The relatively short attention span of someone that age lets the narrative skip around wonderfully, like a bee collecting nectar. Sometimes it alights on a subject for a while, but it's equally likely to pause only briefly before moving on. Rather than being a stream of consciousness, it's more like a babbling brook, its course frequently diverted by anything in its way.

The language used is so perfectly that of a ten year old that it's captivating. Paddy Clarke's mind is full of the joys of discovery that many of us lose as adults. His sheer joy at finding a word he knows he shouldn't use and then using it anyway is a lot of fun. It does mean there's a little more swearing in the book than some may like, but to me it added to the reality of the perspective. But it's Paddy's outlook on simple things that offers the sweetest moments, such as playing cowboys, where they parked our bikes on verges so they could graze. There's a kind of forgotten innocence and imagination in a phrase like that, which captured me all the way through the story.

The simplicity of the story helps it along. Rarely does this feel like a novel, more the wanderings of a young mind. Nothing that Paddy does or experiences is different to that your average ten year old would. Admittedly, not all children experience parental strife and smacking and corporal punishment aren't allowed or encouraged any more, but playground fights, games of football and thoughtless cruelty to siblings are often part of life at that age. This is one of those rare books that feels so real I couldn't help but wonder if it's truly fiction of it there is a large amount of autobiography contained within.

The emotional content made me wonder the same thing. As with people and places, the feelings are quite simply described, but Paddy Clarke feels everything as much as sees it and this comes across wonderfully. He may not always know the name for what he's feeling exactly, but it's detailed enough that the reader usually will. There's often a change of tone to match his emotional state that helps portray his emotions more effectively.

Two other things make Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha incredibly readable. The simplicity of the story and the ten-year-old's language makes it a very easy read and the content makes you want to keep reading. In addition, Doyle writes without chapters, so there's no easy way to find a place to stop reading, nor any encouragement to stop. This is the kind of book you could easily find yourself reading in a single session.

Somehow, I doubt the enjoyment I had from this would be replicated were I to read other prize winning novels, even other Booker Prize winners. But Roddy Doyle has proved to this doubter that a prize-winning book can contain great reading as well as great writing. This is real life in a compelling little chunk and I can see exactly why the 1993 Booker Prize judges rated it so highly.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For other stories of Irish adolescence, Peter Murphy's John the Revelator is another good read. Our reviewer also found another Booker winner to be a remarkably good read - Disgrace by J M Coetzee.

Booklists.jpg Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle is in the Booker Prize Winners.

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