Roddy Doyle’s 1996 novel of a woman caught in an abusive relationship with the husband she once adored presents a textbook case of such abuse and how it is, or isn’t, addressed in real life. Paula Spencer, now a 37-year old widow, her husband, Charles (or Charlo’) having died while committing a crime, relates the story of her life, including her happy childhood and romantic relationship with Charles. In so doing, Doyle depicts the abusive relationship as such relationships – whether involving spouses or parents and children – are commonly conducted. The title, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, is itself a primer on the manner in which the abused, again, whether children or spouses, are coached by the abuser to explain the bruises and other wounds visible to the outside world. “Tell anyone who asks you got hurt falling down stairs or walking into a door” is a familiar demand of abusive parents and spouses fearful of being caught and prosecuted for their criminal offenses. Paula’s response is to both go along with the game plan and to numb herself physically and emotionally through alcohol. Another manner in which Doyle’s story relates to the real world of spousal abuse involves the dependency inherent in Paula’s relationship to Charles. Frequently, abused women are as a afraid of being left alone to fare for themselves – never having done so in the case of women who married very young – as they are of the continued beatings at the hands of their husbands. Such is the case with Paula. She is denial regarding the gravity of her situation at the same time she silently prays for relief, stating at one point “He loved me and he beat me. I loved him and I took it. It's as simple as that, and as stupid and complicated. It's terrible. It's like knowing someone you love is dead but not having the body to prove it. He loved me. I know it,” while at another lamenting her physician’s unwillingness or inability to accurately perceive her plight: “The doctor never looked at me. He studied parts of me but he never saw all of me. He never looked at my eyes. Drink, he said to himself. I could see his nose moving, taking in the smell, deciding.”
Studies of spousal abuse are replete with cases that mirror that of Doyle’s protagonist. Women caught in abusive relationships suffer emotionally and physically, but can’t break away because of their economic and emotional dependence on the abusive spouse. How many of these women silently pray, as Paula does in the following passage, to be relieved of the burden of reporting and prosecuting their husbands is uncertain, but the number is probably very high:
In the hospital.
Please, ask me.
In the clinic.
In the church.
Ask me ask me ask me. Broken nose, loose teeth, cracked ribs. Ask me.”
Paula is desperate to have the weight of responsibility for her husband’s abuse lifted from her shoulders. Instances of wive’s, out of desperation, killing their husbands do occur. In Paula’s case, Doyle kind of takes the easy way out by having Charles die at the hands of the police in response to his kidnapping and murder of a woman in an effort at extorting money from the woman’s husband, a banker. A more likely scenario would have either Paula or one her and Charles’ children pull the trigger, but the results are the same. In the end, she is left to begin the long journey towards recovery, not just from years of abuse, but from the alcoholism that substituted for a more constructive response.