Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle


I have read books written in the voice of teenage boys (with lots of beer involved), but I don’t recall one in the voice of a 10-year old boy. This is set in late 1960s Ireland in a working class neighborhood that is being built up with new housing which means there are drain pipes to crawl through, and that fields available for soccer that are getting smaller. The author won the Booker Prize for this in 1993.

Paddy Clarke is at the same time insightful and given to joining with others to burn his little brother using lighter fluid. He has many stories of plans and games with his friends that are horrifying to an adult. When he begins telling about the mangle his mother uses to wring the laundry, you have to worry someone will be hurt soon.

And some stories are blessedly benign. He tells about the “mission” he set himself of walking upstairs with a book on his head and his observation of his little sister.

I had a mission to complete. Steady was better than too slow. If I went too slow I’d go all unsteady and I’d think I’d never make it and the book would fall off….Rushing was as bad as too slow. You panicked towards the end. Like Catherine walking across the living room. She walked fine for four or five steps, then you could see her face change because she saw that it was ages to go to the other side; her smile became a stretch, she knew she wouldn’t make it, she tried to get there quicker, she fell. She knew she was going to; her face got ready for it. She cried.

There’s a long section describing a soccer game that involved the kids taking on the names of professional soccer players. When his little brother played, the team he was on was given a two-goal handicap because of his size. It turns out that Sinbad’s team usually won and Paddy learned from the parent of one of the other boys that Sinbad was a good player and “had the perfect centre of gravity for a soccer player.”

Later in the book when the “charm” of Paddy’s stories began to wear thin, the problem of Paddy’s father became apparent. He was unpredictable; sometimes he wanted the television off and silence and moments later, he was laughing and joining in their fun. Paddy tells the story of deflecting the father’s anger from Sinbad with a funny story of someone throwing up in class at school.

Paddy grew anxious about the escalating fights between his parents and thought his wakefulness kept them from fighting. He began to look so unwell at school that the cranky schoolmaster took pity on him. That’s all I’ll say about the plot portion of this book.

I’m not sure why I finished this one but it has been on my radar for years.

Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Viking, 1993, 282 pages (I read the Kindle version). Available in the public library.

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