Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle
Author: Roddy Doyle
Reader: Ger Ryan
Short Review: A novel featuring the engaging lead character from Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors gloriously read in the perfect Dublin accent by Ger Ryan.
Long Review: Paula Spencer is a recovering alcoholic, recovering longtime victim of domestic violence, widow, house-cleaner, and mother weighed down by a lot of grief. The story could be awash in bathos, but it’s not. It escapes the bathetic because Doyle knows how to write, and Ryan knows how to act, and Paula appears to be winning her own personal war.
I’ve been a fan of Doyle’s for years, in part because he is able to write women far better than a lot of male writers can. I don’t know if we’re really that hard to understand, or if a lot of men who write never take the trouble to learn how to do it. Returning to Paula as his protagonist for a second novel must have been difficult–these can’t have been light books to write. But I love seeing her return, and I particularly love listening to this book because it is so personal and succinct. I lived in Dublin for a while once upon a time, and a North Dublin accent is one of my favorite in the world, in part because it is so often paired with plain, sharp speech in my experience. As an audio book, Paula Spencer is great because the prose is spare yet engaging, the characters are limited, and the plot is easy to follow. All of that combines to allow Ryan to really act as she narrates, and she is an immensely talented actor.
I’m sure some people would be turned off by the weight of the story–addiction and abuse are hard subjects to deal with for so many of us. But I don’t think that should scare anyone off. Yes, Paula Spencer and her kids live a hard life. But it’s a life worth seeing, and hearing. This book displays Paula’s triumphs, however small.
Overall, what I love most about the book is that it is entirely free of hagiography and martyrdom. Doyle doesn’t canonize Paula. Paula doesn’t canonize Paula. And Paula’s kids certainly don’t canonize Paula. Everyone in the book is deeply flawed, but they’re not wallowing in their failings or denying them. They just live, however they can, and try to be as decent as they can. It’s a more accurate portrayal of addiction and abuse than I’ve seen in a long time, and I think that makes it much more worthwhile than most of the pop-psychology influenced stuff on those subjects I’ve read.