The Woman Who Walked into Doors
Just as the comic quality of Roddy Doyle’s first three novels—his Barrytown trilogy—did not prepare readers for the unrelieved grimness of PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA, winner of the 1993 Booker Prize, neither do the devastating but nevertheless relatively small-scale cruelties of the latter quite prepare readers for the pervasive despair and domestic violence recounted in Doyle’s latest (and best) novel. For all its gritty details of life among Dublin’s underclass, THE WOMAN WHO WALKED INTO DOORS goes well beyond documentary realism to create a sense of tragic inevitability in a culture insidiously bent on reproducing its worst features. A “sucker for romance,” Paula O’Leary discovers just how limited her future is as soon as she enters technical high school, where she is typecast academically and reduced to choosing between two sexual roles, slut or tight bitch. Not surprisingly, Paula gravitates toward an “elegant” young thug named Charlo Spencer who offers her the relative protection of “respectability.” Soon after they wed, Paula becomes pregnant and Charlo begins first to neglect, then to abuse her. To make matters worse, Charlo is aided and abetted by Paula’s culturally induced sense of guilt and worthlessness and a medical community all too willing to blame Paula for her injuries.
A simple rendering of Paula’s life would make compelling, albeit horrific, reading, but what makes her story, and Doyle’s novel, so affecting...
(The entire section is 495 words.)