Since breaking through with his debut the novel, The Commitments in 1987, Roddy Doyle has been raised to the status of national treasure in Ireland, with his works such as The Commitments and The Van being adapted for stage and screen; however it was this novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which won him the Booker Prize in 1993.
The titular character of the book is a schoolboy growing up in the Barrytown area of Dublin. Paddy and his mates play football in the street, pretend to be Cowboys and Indians and set things on fire, as young lads generally did in 1960s Dublin. Paddy is a particularly inquisitive child, trying to get his head round what is going on in the world, from the Vietnam War to the Japanese ritual of suicide, or Seppuku. He and friends are also very cheeky, much to the chagrin of their teachers. Their classroom antics provide the book with some of its funniest passages.
Doyle’s world, much like Ireland, is built on the two pillars of Catholicism and family. Paddy’s world is very much centred round his family. He looks out for his younger brother Francis, nicknamed ‘Sinbad’ and he loves his ‘Da’ and ‘Ma’, which makes it much harder for him to understand why his Da and Ma’s marriage is falling apart. As the reader, you get some subtle hints at first that things aren’t well in the Clarke household, but as the novel progresses and we see Paddy grow up, the veil of Paddy’s childhood begins to fall, and this is where the real emotional impact of Doyle’s novel is felt.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is written in Doyle’s unique style; punchy and conversational. As the writer, he wants the reader to feel that they are in the heart of the conversation with Paddy and the characters which surround him. The whole narrative structure is based around anecdotes and snippets of Paddy’s life, particularly the experiences of childhood, which are universal to all readers of the novel.
What struck me about Doyle’s novel is how firstly, he manages to capture the reality of being a young child; which is of enjoying life as much as you can, but being aware of getting older and becoming more world weary, and secondly, the importance of family. The last part of the novel tugs at the heartstrings as Paddy realises that family comes first. Indeed, after finishing this book, it made me think of the importance of my own family in my life.