Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle (4/5)

The back says: I swooned the first time I saw Charlo. I actually did. I didn’t faint or fall on the floor but my legs went rubbery on me and I giggled. I suddenly knew that I had lungs because they were empty and collapsing.

I say: The novel starts with a young policeman coming to Paula’s door to tell her that he husband, Charlo, is dead. Throughout the rest of this first half of the novel Paula’s narrative weaves in and out of her present and different parts of her past. She talks about growing up poor, going to school and finally meeting her husband, Charlo; and, at uneven intervals, we follow her through the present, witnessing how she deals with the news of her husband’s death.
These are the parts I liked the best.

About halfway through she begins talking about the domestic abuse she had to suffer at Charlo’s hands, and it is here that I think the novel somewhat loses some of its magic. Prior to this I thought that this was going to be a story about coming-of-age in the poor parts of Dublin, but it turned out to be about Paula’s struggle to deal with the abuse.
“They could smell the drink. Aah. They could see the bruises. Aah, now. They could see the bumps. Ah now, God love her. Their noses led them but their eyes wouldn’t. My mother looked and saw nothing. My father saw nothing, and he loved what he didn’t see. My brothers saw nothing. His mother saw nothing – at first. [...] The woman who kept walking into doors.” – p 187

Paula winds up in the emergency room several times and always has the same excuse; she walked into a door, and the most depressing part was reading about how everyone turned away from her. She, in turn, thought that she deserved what she was getting. In a way, it feels condescending to say that I’ve heard the story before, but I have – with different words. This isn’t what I wanted to read and I felt lured in by the early childhood memories.

But I kept on reading because Doyle’s writing is excellent.
The way that he weaved the episodes into each other, with Paula continuously questioning herself and her memories, was masterful. At first I wasn’t sure why she would be so unsure about her past, but once the element of abuse was introduced I understood the doubt. There prose is languid and sombre at first, and then starts commoving and ends in a way I could never have imagined.

I look forward to reading more of Doyle’s work.

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