” That was my life. Getting hit, waiting to get hit, recovering; forgetting. Starting all over again. There was no time, a beginning or and end. I can’t say how many times he beat me. It was one beating; it went on forever. I know how long: seventeen years. One stinking, miserable, good lump of days. Daylight and darkness. Pain and the fear of it. Darkness and daylight, over and over; world without end. ” (Ch.25, p.206)
The novel is about a battered wife who makes excuses for and justifies her husband’s wrongdoing. The Woman Who Walked into Doors tells the story of Paula Spencer, who struggles to reclaim her dignity after a violent, abusive marriage and a worsening alcohol problem, which she admits to nobody. Roddy Doyle takes us inside the head of Paula, who is now 39 years old, mother of four, and has been widowed for a year. The story is told in a circular and timeless manner. At the beginning we learn that she has just found out her husband is dead. But the prose immediately shifts to her family and childhood. She is the daughter of two affectionate, responsible parents; she is a pretty girl whose early puberty brings her mixed delights and sorrows. There is a profoundness to her sadness recalling the courtship she had with Charlo and the life they lived as a couple and as parents.
I keep blaming myself. After all the years and the broken bones and teeth and torture I still keep on blaming myself. I can’t help it. What if? What if? He wouldn’t have hit me if I hadn’t . . .; none of the other fists and belts would have followed if I hadn’t . . . He hit me, he hit his children, he hit other people, he killed a woman—and I keep blaming myself. For provoking him. For not loving him enough; for not showing it. (Ch.25, p.170)
The tragedy of Paula and Charlo is that they weren’t always tragic. He was a handsome boy with Elvis lips; she was a lovely girl who could sit on her hair. They had a blissful honeymoon at the seaside. But when she becomes pregnant, he turns abusive. The question for Paula is whether the end of things destroys the beginning? Were there any good times, or were they all polluted, all ruined? She seems to be always troubled by memory and broods upon its power to give life and to distort it.
I can’t pick and choose them. I can’t pretend. There were no good times. I can never settle into a nice memory, lie back, and smile. They’re all polluted, all ruined. (Ch.26, p.197)
I finish this novel drained and upset. Paula’s story is one that by the end has an outcome where all the victims of Charlo’s violence are still alive—if they actually have lives. The Woman Who Walked into Doors leaves you with this disturbing feeling that her husband has killed parts of her. If love is really blind, Paula’s example is unmatched. All that hurt, brutality, and physical abuse to which Charlo has subjected her seems to make her a woman. As she ruminates on the endless torture, she allows herself to be convinced of his love for her. It’s morbid and excruciating. Doyle modulates his prose with such fine pace, in sinuous variations. Whether Paula is ruminating or drunk, the writing is finely tuned to her emotional state.
226 pp. Random House UK. Hardback. [Read/
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