This article is from 2006.
When Roddy Doyle wrote The Woman Who Walked Into Doors in 1996, his critics and fans didn't know where to look. Sure, his previous novels (The Barrytown Trilogy of The Snapper, The Van and The Commitments, and the Booker winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) had their moments of sour fate, dire conditions and family malaise, but his tale of an abused wife and house-cleaner was unremittingly bleak in its portrayal of a too-loyal woman at the brutal end of a man's hostility.
Doyle's main receipts of acclaim were for his ability to get inside the head of an abused woman and also for not simply retreading his old ground; after all, it would have been so easy for Doyle to do Paddy Clarke Laughs Again considering that the previous book had become the biggest seller ever to scoop the Booker Prize. But Doyle (known by his school pupils in 1980s Dublin as 'Punk' for the stud earring he wore while he tried to make his literary breakthrough), has never taken the easy way out, and after those books, he turned to the more distant past for his next themed set, The Round-Up Trilogy which traces Ireland's troubled history across the 20th century.
So, having created such a singular character as Paula Spencer in The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, it was perhaps inevitable that Doyle would one day return to catch up with her story (now entitled, simply, Paula Spencer). Having written about her as a 39-year-old alcoholic trying desperately to hold the family unit together, he now recreates her a decade older, clean and sober (for a few months
anyway), with two of her kids still living at home. She is still in the cleaning industry but the economic shape of her nation has shifted and Paula is joined in her employ by East Europeans and Nigerians. More of a problem is the behaviour of her kids and four grandchildren (Marcus and Sapphire for
two) who are coping with the mores of modern life almost as badly as she is.
While Roddy Doyle has made a name for himself with the ability to shine a positive light on the tough times that working class Irish families go through, his harsh tale of Paula Spencer appeared to dampen such notions. As Doyle gets set to unleash her eponymous tale, we see the clear sense of
optimism at the heart of his writing. For all her palpable faults, Paula is a survivor and the title of the book alone hints that now she has forged an dentity rather than being just another victim.
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