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This is a review of the 1998 book "The Woman who walked into doors" by Roddy Doyle. I'm a huge fan of this author and have read most of his works, even including the biography he wrote about his parents. Until now, this book had been one I'd missed but when I saw it at a book sale I snapped it up due to the author rather than the subject appealing to me.
A bit about
Without spoiling all the story line, the book is about domestic violence and is written in a style which is mainly conversational, it's the thoughts of Paula as she recounts the last twenty years of her life and tries to work out where she went wrong. At first we meet a sad woman who is admitting to be an alcholic and whilst she is a sad case, you don't feel much sympathy for her as she mentiones her barely fed and clothed children. We assume she spends all her time and money drinking rather than caring for them. An additional aside is that in the first few pages, a police man is at the door telling her that her husband has died. She deals with this information calmly but inside she is screaming, confused and upset.
The main character, Paula is a strange one. She is quite vain for a woman who has been knocked about her hair, teeth and broken bones must have taken their toll on her looks but she still maintains that she looks ten years younger than her age... not so in my experience of long term alcoholics. So from this I take that she is a bit deluded about herself. The early pages did not really gain my sympathy but as I got into the story I realised she turned to drink in desperation of her abusive husband, Charlo, who sounds like an awful man. This really is an unlikely love story but you can hear the love in her words as she speaks about some of the most awful times Paula spent with Charlo.
I don't think this is the sort of book that many will actually enjoy reading. Firstly the content is quite disturbing but also, the way the book is written is quite hard to get used to. Extra punctuation (like random full stop) is littered through the book and spelling mistakes added to dialect (Dublin, Irish) add to the confusion. It is all quite deliberate though and to me, makes it far more interesting and a joy to read, a bit like the way Irvine Welsh writes in the Scottish phonetic and using a lot of conversation to convey the message.
To me, this is quite a magical read, with Roddy Doyle writing as a woman with great insight and also depicting a complex character and a woman destined to work herself into her twighlight years, sitting on the edge of poverty. Her life choices seemed simple as a young girl: find a man, marry and have kids and all the trimmings and whilst she met these objectives, it just did not pan out to be a great life in the end.
I have just finished reading this book and I loved it, Paula Spencer is a survivor. In spite of a difficult childhood,an abusive husband and a society which tries to sweep it's domestic problems under the carpet, she endures and lives to tell the tale. Roddy Doyle is an amazing writer, it must have been such a challenge for him to write as a woman, but it does it so well- perhaps better than a woman could.
Having studied this text both at A-level and degree level, I feel safe to say that I know this book inside out now. But one thing that never fails to amaze me is that this sensitive and indepth novel about a woman's feelings was written by a man. The novel follows a woman's struggle to come to terms with the fact her husband beat her. It is sensitively written, and looks at the problem a person faces when something like this has happened to them. I have to say that anyone who hasn't read it is definetely missing out and should get around to reading it as soon as possible. Definetely worth reading.
I don't think I'm sexist - but I truly believe that male writers write better about some subjects than female writers - and vice versa. It's a matter of personal taste I suppose, but, as an example, I've yet to read an account of a fight by a female writer that seemed sufficiently realistic. Perhaps it's because we women are far too sensible to engage in fisticuffs, but, described by a woman, a fight always seems to be more handbags at dawn than hard men at war. But I've changed. Truly I have. Because it was prejudice like this that prevented me from reading "The Woman who walked into Doors" by Roddy Doyle. True, Doyle is one of my favourite writers and, true, I've loved every other book he has ever written. Yet, despite having read glowing reviews of this one, I couldn't quite bring myself to actually buy it. How could a man - even one as undoubtedly talented as Doyle - ever hope to write a believable book from a woman's perspective and about a subject as sensitive as domestic violence too? Nope, couldn't be done, hence my determination never to read this book. Yet, if the cover notes were to be believed, then Doyle is more than equal to the task of writing as a woman. The Sunday Express wrote "He climbs into a woman's skin so brilliantly that you have to pinch yourself to remember this was written by a man", while The Cork Examiner and The Times both called the book Doyle's best to date. But, then, they don't print the bad reviews on book covers, do they? And besides, the reviewers themselves were probably men, bereft of feminine logic and incapable of thinking 'like a woman'. The book tantalised me for months. On one hand, I desperately wanted to read it since, in my opinion, Doyle is one of the best writers of the 20th / 21st century. Yet, because of that, I didn't want to see him fail. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I forked out my £6.9
9, more than half believing that this was a book that I was destined to hate. To my astonishment, I didn't. "The Woman who walked into Doors" is instantly recognisable as having been written by Doyle. In common with most of his other books it is set in Dublin and bears the familiar Doyle trademarks of insight, observation, scrupulous attention to detail and wry humour. Yes, humour, for even in a book about such a distressing subject, the author still manages to provide his readers with an occasional laugh.In this book, though, the laughter is sympathetic laughter.A sort of "been there, done that" kind of laughter, rather than belly laughs.(Paula's desperate dash to the toilet at her first meeting with her future mother-in-law, in which she mistakenly bursts into an occupied bedroom, being the exception that proves the rule!) For this book, Doyle seems to adopt a completely new style of writing."I loved him. He was everything and I was nothing. I provoked him. I forgot. I needed him." Doyle uses short sentences to great effect. Not only do they mirror the short, sharp bursts of violence experienced throughout by the main character, but they paint a picture. A picture of a woman (Paula Spencer) who is not educated and is not comfortable with fancy words, yet is struggling to tell her story, to make hereslf understood to people who are, in all probability so much cleverer and far more interesting than she is. People who will undoubtedly dismiss her,saying she should have left her abusive husband at the first slap, and will fail to understand the 'love him / hate him' dichotomy that all too often prevents victims of domestic violence from walking away from their abusers. Paula has a story to tell and, although at times she seems almost apologetic in doing so, Roddy Doyle provides an excellent mouthpiece. The book starts with a shock which I won't divulge for fear of spoiling the plot. Then, af
ter the first chapter, the story is told retrospectively by Paula, starting with her first meeting with Charlo her abusive husband.("I swooned the first time I saw Charlo"). It continues through the good times - and the very bad times - of their marriage and subsequent life together and apart. The narrative skips backwards and forwards in time, as though Paula is having difficulty in organising her thoughts. One moment the reader is at school with Paula, the next on her honeymoon, then back to the present day. Parts of the book seem like inconsequential gossip - the disconnected ramblings of a woman who is struggling to make sense of her life and the events that have brought her to her lowest ebb and beyond. Other parts, such as Paula's battles with poverty and alcoholism, seem far more serious. The greatest strength of this book is probably its 'ordinariness'. As usual, Doyle shows a mastery of language and a real way with words, especially in his construction of characters. Charlo, as described by Paula, is " a brown-eyed ride with scars and a record and his mickey thrown over his shoulder". (On which subject, I should point out for the more sensitive amongst you, that this book contains frequent sexual references and a liberal use of the 'f' word throughout.) The essence of the book is gritty Realism - with a capital R. The difficulty lies not in believing Doyle, a man writing as a woman, but in believing that Paula is actually a fictional character. Her life, as portrayed by Doyle, is all too real. Yet, somehow, Doyle manages to avoid this being a depressing book, given the seriousness of the subject matter. The reader symapthises with - and empathises with Paula, without ever actually pitying her, so quirky and positive is her attitude to life. It is a powerful and emotive book, one that grabs the reader firmly by the scruff of the neck and drags them into Paula's world. A world of love and
hate, of sex, pain, poverty, misery and adversity. But also a world of courage, joy, laughter, fun and, overwhelmingly, of hope.It is a positive book, rather than a negative one - you will laugh as much as you cry. Take a step into Paula's world. It was a journey I resisted for far too long - and one that I'm glad I eventually made. "the woman who walked into doors" (sic) - Roddy Doyle - Vintage - ISBN 0 7493 9599 0
As many of you know I'm at University studying a Q.T.S. course to become a Primary School Teacher. However, that isn't all I'm doing, I'm also doing an English Degree (or a part English degree) alongside my teacher training. The reason I mention this is because on my current module, "Writing Now" we are studying Contemporary writers and Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, is next on our study list. Having read this book over the holiday's I found no trouble at all getting into the story. The way Doyle has written the book it is as if Paula, the main character, is telling you personally her life story, as if she is speaking to you. This is different to anything I've read before and here it works. You get to see the world from an Victims point of view, and what a miserable world it can be sometimes. Because Paula is telling the story you feel her emotions, how she felt when she first met her husband, how she felt the first time he hit her, why, for a while at least, she didn't believe or didn't think that she was being abused then, when she realised, how she was all too happy to tell anyone if they would just ask her the right questions, which they never did. Doyle has obviously done his research for his novel and, as far as I can tell having not been the victim of Domestic Violence, has got into the mindset of a victim. How they believe everything is their fault and if they would stop making mistakes the pain would stop. When in reality they are doing very little wrong indeed. The story doesn't begin with domestic violence as its theme, rather with Paula telling how she came to be where she is now (single Irish mother of 4 children, alcoholic) whilst only making passing references to the beatings she received. It is a fairly humorous tale at first; Paula tells us of how she get placed in Secondary School and was made to sit next to another O'Leary who spent all his s
chool life leering at her and annoying her, how her first holiday as a married woman went and other tales. The domestic violence is described, by Paula, in the last 1/4 of the book and it makes for informative but difficult reading. At times I had to put the book down and return to it later as it is fairly graphic. This isn't unjustified though and the detail all fits into place when it comes to Paula telling of how she ended it and how this ultimately ended her husband. Intrigued? Go buy the book then! In my course this book is being studied alongside prestigious author's such as Kate Atkinson, Meera Syal and Jackie Kay so Doyle must have something to have got noticed by my lecturers. Indeed he has, so much so that apart from its occasional graphic descriptions of beatings the only other thing I can fault about the book is its lack of speech marks; when speech is reported in the novel it is preceded by a dash (-) which can occasionally make it difficult to follow who said what. After a quick paragraph re-read though it becomes clear. An easy read, for those of a strong disposition, which does tug on the heartstrings at times. I recommend it.
I really couldn't get on with this book at all (and this is rare for me!). The topic of the book is domestic violence, and so I felt I should have strong feelings about both main characters (Paula, the victim, and Charlo, the wife-beating husband), but I actually found the characters very flat and difficult to relate to. This may be because of the style of writing, and what I felt was complete overuse of swearing - if it was designed to shock, it failed miserably and just turned me off the whole book. I was also not impressed with the storyline itself, whereby nothing really seemed to happen, except violence. Maybe this is the point the book is trying to make, in which case I apologise for my shallowness, but I read books for pleasure, not for digging out deep meanings from pages of cursing. My mother always told me that if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything, so this is a short review. I read the book mainly due to the reputation of the author, however, I won't be looking out for any more of his books.
The woman who walked into doors is a masterpiece that is the only word to describe it. The plot set in Dublin centres around a woman, Paula and her life from growing up to marriage and children. Paula has a happy childhood, but a miserable marriage. Here husband, Charlo beats her up, in disgusting ways, not just the odd slap, but real nasty violence, snapping fingers, pulling arms out of their sockets etc. This drives Paula into an alcoholic, with no self-confidence and almost a recluse. Paula cannot admit to the beatings, she loves her husband how can this possibly happen! In her own mind she is clumsy, “she walks into doors”. After every beating Charlo is kind and attentive, why does he hit her? This book is written from the standpoint of Paula and portrays some of the worst sides of Irish working class culture, it is so well written, with flashbacks used to describe Paula’s childhood and the plot is well meshed together always moving to an end you know happens. (The book starts from the premise that Paula throws Charlo out and he ends up being shot by the police a year latter.) This portrays Dublin at its worse but the story of domestic violence could have been set anywhere. The book captures Paula’s fears and anxieties, throughout her life and portrays the true horror of domestic violence (the doctor that looks the other way etc.) It is shocking, but Paula never gives up and lives for her kids. This is a great book, depressing but uplifting at the same time. I have read two other books by Roddy Doyle and this is the best by a mile, if possible it would get six stars.
The story of an ordinary woman from Dublin and her stormy relationship with her husband Charlo, from Prize-winner Roddy Doyle.