Patrick (Paddy) Clarke is a 10-year-old boy growing up in the fictional town of Barrytown, Dublin. In the first half of “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”, Roddy Doyle paints a perfect picture of the wild, carefree days of a childhood spent on streets— Paddy and his friends tramping around the local construction sites, writing their names in wet cements, bursting tar bubbles or throwing live bees into it, pretending to be Vikings and Indians, daring each other to climb a neighbor’s fence or run across a neighbor’s yard… Gradually, the novel becomes a record of Paddy’s growing fears about his parent’s constant fights. “They were fighting all the time now. They said nothing but it was a fight. The way he folded his paper and snapped it, he was saying something.” Paddy wishes he could understand why his parents fight, and wishes more that he could make them stop. “… all I could do was listen and wish. I didn’t pray; there were no prayers for this. The Our Father didn’t fit, or the Hail Mary. But I rocked the same way I sometimes did when I was saying prayers. Backwards and forwards, the rhythm of the prayer… I rocked. Stop, stop, stop, stop. On the stairs… at the table in the kitchen…stop, stop, stop, stop.” In the end, Paddy’s father walks out on them, and Paddy’s friends now tease him with their chant, “Paddy Clarke, Paddy Clarke, has no Da, ha ha ha.”
Roddy Doyle says that he wrote “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” from bits of memories of his own childhood. He was a 10-year-old in the Dublin of 1968 (the setting of “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”), and he says “the school I taught in and the surrounding houses became the fields and building sites that Paddy Clarke plays in.” When he started writing this book, he says he “began to see things through his (Paddy’s) eyes. Adult hands were big, wrinkles were fascinating, ladders were great, disgusting was brilliant, grown-ups were often stupid...” So, “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” is a coming-of-age story that finds resonation with a lot of people. It is, therefore, no surprise that it won the Booker Prize in 1993.
“Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” is narrated in the first-person by 10-year-old Paddy Clarke, so we, the readers, must trail after Paddy’s thoughts that flow in no particular order. There are no chapters, nor is there a coherent thread that ties one paragraph to the next. I found it rather difficult to get used to this style, but once I did, it didn’t bother me. All the vignettes that were thrown together in a random order gave me a vivid sense of being Paddy Clarke, and this is what makes the novel so readable.
I rather liked this book. It is funny— so many instances when I found myself laughing out loud. It is light. It is sweet and bitter in equal measure. Nothing great, but I suppose I can call it a decent read.
Book Reviewed by Manjushree Hegde
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