Friday, 18 November 2016

Book Review: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Domestic abuse is a sad reality and even in modern western society it’s probably much commoner than we are ready to believe. Today it may be less of a taboo to talk about it than it used to be in former times, but still many victims keep suffering in their own homes without losing a word about their ordeal even to closest friends or family. For someone who has never been in the situation it’s really hard to understand why anyone would put up with being verbally or physically attacked on a regular basis, maybe even daily and sometimes so violently that being killed is an actual possibility. Quite obviously, it’s a very complex matter psychologically. The Irish novel The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle shows the mixed feelings that Paula Spencer has about her husband who early on in their marriage began to beat her up ferociously and who drove her into alcoholism.

Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin, Ireland, in May 1958. After earning a B.A. degree from University College Dublin, he worked as a teacher of English and geography for several years and wrote only in his free time. As from 1987 he published prolifically making his debut as a novelist with The Commitments that was followed by its sequels The Snapper (1990), The Van (1991), Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993), and – after an interval of twenty years – The Guts (2013). The five books together form The Barrytown Pentalogy although the last two use to be published in single editions . After 1993 he wrote for a living. His other successful novels are The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (1996) along with its late sequel Paula Spencer (2006) and the three books of The Last Roundup titled A Star Called Henry (1999), Oh, Play That Thing! (2004) and The Dead Republic (2010). In addition, the author wrote novellas and short stories, plays for the theatre and the screen, children’s books, and the memoirs of his parents and of footballer Roy Keane. Roddy Doyle lives in Dublin, Ireland, with his family.

How often do we hear of The Woman Who Walked Into Doors or who fell down the stairs again. In this novel set in Dublin of the mid-1990s the woman’s name is Paula Spencer. She is thirty-nine years old, the mother of four, an alcoholic and a widow. About a year ago the Irish Police told her that they shot her husband Charlo after he had killed his hostage in an armed robbery. Paula had thrown him out of their house a year earlier and isn’t shocked, not even surprised because already when she first met Charlo he had a criminal record (which added to his appeal then) and from own experience in almost eighteen years of marriage she knows all too well what he was capable of. Her father never liked him and called him a criminal, but she was over the ears in love and set on passing her life with him. Not long after the wedding, however, the charming and respectful young man whom she adored began to show his true face.
“I knew nothing for a while, where I was, how come I was on the floor. Then I saw Charlo's feet, then his legs, making a triangle with the floor. He seemed way up over me. Miles up. I had to bend back to see him. Then he came down to meet me. His face, his eyes went all over my face, looking, searching. Looking for marks, looking for blood. He was worried. He turned my head and looked. His face was full of worry and love. He skipped my eyes. —You fell, he said.”
Sometimes Charlo stayed peaceful for weeks, even months on end, but then he got into another rage and beat her up again. Over the years he took her to the hospital with all kinds of more or less serious injuiries and she never got a chance to tell what he had been doing to her. Nobody asked anyways and not just because she had turned to drowning the constant pain in alcohol. By and by Charlo had killed the little self-esteem that she had ever had and made her believe that it was her own fault that he hurt her. A year after his death she still loves him although slowly she begins to see things as they really were recovering her lost self in the process.

Over the period of a few months the protagonist of The Woman Who Walked Into Doors tells the tragic story of her violent marriage from her first-person point of view, but in a way that to the reader appears arbitrary because she reveals only bits and pieces coming to her mind at the moment because she is obviously ready to cope with them. In fact, the author produced a skilfully planned jigsaw puzzle that once completed gives a very vivid picture of the protagonist and her life. The consequent use of stream-of-consciousness allows for many flashbacks into her not always terrible past, for observations about her surroundings and for self-reflections that all converge in the central questions of the novel: how did she become an abused wife and why did she stay in this hell for so long? Both the described ordeal and the character of Paula Spencer correspond with the many true stories that victims of domestic abuse regularly make public, i.e. they feel exceedingly authentic and this is all the more amazing because the author is a man. The other characters, including the violent husband, are secondary and reduced to the necessary outlines. The novel’s language flows with ease and its even spiced with subtle humour that alleviates the heavy story a little.

Considering its very serious topic, it would feel strange to call The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle an enjoyable read. It’s certainly an outstanding novel and an important one, too. I’m glad that I picked it although it made me sad to know that this work of fiction is so close to the daily reality of probably millions of women of all social classes worldwide. Admittedly, I didn’t find much in it that was completely new to me and so it didn’t help me understand the psyche of abused women any better. Nonetheless, I believe that it’s a worthwhile read if only for the great writing and for showing me how lucky I have been in my life so far. Therefore I recommend this stirring novel.

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  1. Good review. I don't know what to say except that all over the world and throughout human life there has been the pattern of the abuser and the abused. It is a sad, sad thing.

    1. Yes, indeed, it's sad that there is abuse and humiliation in this beautiful world...


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