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Both the attention to the depiction of Irish characters and to contemporary Irish colloquialisms and north-side Dublin dialect are suggested in the title of Doyle’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha. The novel has been justifiably and favorably compared to numerous bildungsromans, or coming-of-age novels, including Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914-1915, serial; 1916, book), and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha indeed shows some of the struggles of the title character as he tries to have fun as a young boy, even as the circumstances of his family and his neighborhood cause him to grapple with some adult-sized issues and problems. Paddy is proud of his status as an oldest son, and he is characteristically condescending to his younger brother, Sinbad, and his two baby sisters.

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As lower-middle-class suburban sprawl moves northward from Dublin, new treeless housing subdivisions under construction provide a dangerous but thrilling landscape for Paddy and his hooligan friends, Aidan, Liam, and Kevin. They terrorize the younger kids in the neighborhood, perform acrobatic feats of boyhood heroism on slag piles of discarded cement, and even create mock-Viking funeral rites for dead rats among the construction rubble. Doyle’s narrative voice, channeled through the ten-year-old consciousness of Paddy, is authentic and unsentimental. Given the almost clichéd renderings of Paddy’s existence—poverty, crime, deteriorating family situation, and a lack of positive role models—the novel could have become sentimental or trite, but it does not because Paddy never feels sorry for himself but simply exerts his make-do Irish spirit on his situation.

As the novel proceeds and Paddy becomes aware of the demise of his parents’ relationship in a way that his younger siblings cannot, he exerts his will in a manner that seems especially suited to a headstrong ten-year-old boy. After he has become disturbingly accustomed to the nightly, lengthy arguments between his parents, which he can hear with clarity even though he is two closed doors away, he decides to stay up all night and to repeat, quietly but insistently, the simple whispered word “stop” in order to quell his parents’ arguments and to return the household to some state of repose and assumed peace. Like many of the characters whom Doyle created in the Barrytown trilogy, Paddy Clarke continues in the tradition of the indefatigable picaro, who will seek...

(The entire section contains 615 words.)

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