Friday, September 08, 2006

A new novel by J.K. Rowling's favorite writer

There is a new novel due out by J.K. Rowling's favorite living writer, Roddy Doyle. Harry Potter's creator says of Doyle:
I love all his books. I often talk about him and Jane Austen in the same breath. I think people are slightly mystified by that because superficially they're such different writers. But they both have a very unsentimental approach to human nature. They can be profoundly moving without ever becoming mawkish.
Now, ten years after Doyle published The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, he's coming out with a sequel, Paula Spencer. And it sounds like a book that should please Rowling.

Paula Spencer was "the woman who walked into doors," or so that was her flimsy cover story to explain her bruises by her sadist husband. A cleaning woman, who happens to be an alcoholic, Paula was raising four children in a working class suburb of Dublin.

Maeve Binchy reviewed the new novel for the Times (London). It catches up with Paula ten years later. The two of her kids who witnessed the worse abuse their (now dead) father committed on their mother have grown up and moved out, leaving the younger ones at home. Paula is still a cleaning woman, still an alcoholic, and still suffering from panic attacks.

Ireland has grown wealthy in the past ten years, yet that has meant little for Paula. Now only 48 years old, she still suffers pain in her joints from the beatings. Yet, Binchy writes:

it’s an amazingly cheerful story, full of real resilience. For Paula to have got to this stage is survival on an epic scale. Her language is appalling, she seems constantly to score own goals by saying the wrong thing, then realising that she has and, in trying to improve it, making things worse still.

But she is so utterly likeable that we cheer for her, and every tiny victory for her is a triumph for us as well.

She is like the kind of exasperating friend that everyone has known, the friend who has been through so much and taken so much abuse that you cannot really blame her for the next thing, but you still do.

As for a treatise on the difficulty of giving up drink . . . well, surely someone will make this book required reading for recovering alcoholics. Would any of us have gone near a bottle of vodka if we could know what it might be like trying to give it up? Paula tells it better than any Temperance Apostle I have heard of. And Roddy Doyle has done the impossible—he has made Paula Spencer even more unforgettable the second time round.

As best I can tell, Paula Spencer will be available in Canada later this month and in the U.S. in January 2007.

--Marshal Zeringue