” I loved making stuff up; I loved the way the next bit came into my head, it made sense and expanded and I could keep going till I came to the end; it was like being in a race. I always won. I told it the second I made it up, but I believed it, I really did. ” (229-230)
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is narrated, first-person, by 10-year-old Patrick Clarke, whose name is all over Barrytown, a suburb of Dublin, written with sticks
in wet cement. He lives with his working-class parents and a younger brother and sister. Despite his many escapades with his friends, from drawing big V on his chest for vigor, to parading with only underpants on in front of the new row of Corporation houses, to setting booby trap all over town, the kid is distressed over his parents’ fighting that he stays up all night to prevent their quarrels.
I had a book on top of my head. I had to get up the stairs without it falling off. If it fell off I would die. It was a hardback book, heavy, the best kind for carrying on your head. I couldn’t remember which one it was. I knew all the books in the house. I knew their shapes and smells. I knew what pages would open if I held them with the spine on the ground and let the sides drop. I knew all the books but I couldn’t remember the name of the one on my head. (75)
The plot structure, if there is one, is unconventional—takes a little while to get used to. It’s not entirely coherent, but made up of numerous vignettes. Roddy Doyle starts with an incident, a fire that leaves a barn slowly crumbling, its roof like a crooked lid of a can, and uses it to link to past events pertaining to Paddy’s family. The language is beautifully child-like, vulgar at times, dotted with Irish colloquialisms. reading it is like a 10-year-old is talking to you, full of childish wonderment and innocence.
They were fighting all the time now. They said nothing but it was a fight. The way he folded his paper and snapped it, he was saying something. The way she got up when one of the girls was crying upstairs, sighed and stopped, wanting him to see that she was tired. (221)
I have to keep reminding myself that the narrator is only 10 years old. That said, I still can’t help feeling he sometimes does very silly and random acts. The book gives me the feeling that I do not (and I cannot) have to remember most of the details but rather emotions evoked from the language and reactions of Paddy. There exudes a constant sense of his evolving emotions and turmoil. The emotions move from the light-hearted fun of his escapades to real-life harshness of his parents’ divorce. It’s a painful and bitter coming-of-age story.
282 pp. Penguin. Paper. [Read/
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