The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
- Publication Date:
- 03 January 1998
- Modern & Contemporary
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Roddy Doyle at his best in my view. No one does realistic dialogue better. And as an exploration -- perhaps a better words is indictment -- of Irish social mores, it's a biting critique. The story of a battered wife who descends into alcoholism, the book explores the tragedy of low self esteem and how it affects those around one just as much as it affects the sufferer. I felt every muscle in my body contract during the many tragic scenes in the book. I felt physical pain when Paula was victimized again and again. A surging powerful book that has a wonderful story and a real point.
A truly frightening book, mostly because of the implicit narrative. Doyle gives you just enough horrific details to make you want to find out how things in the narrator's life went so wrong. On page five, Paula says: "I knew nothing for awhile, where I was, how come I was on the floor. Then I saw Charlo's feet, then his legs, making a triangle on the floor. He seemed way up over me. Miles up. I had to bend back to see him. Then he came down to meet me. His face, his eyes went all over my face, looking, searching. Looking for marks, looking for blood. He was worried. He turned my head and looked. His face was full of worry and love. He skipped my eyes. ---You fell, he said."She describes herself as a girl: "Me then... She knew she was stupid but she didn't mind that much... Her mother said she was nice enough to be a model but she had crooked teeth... She was leaving school in a few months, after her Group Cert. She was going to stroll through it. She had her whole life ahead of her."She describes herself later in life:"Me now. She has four children. She is a widow... She has holes in her heart that are killing her. She isn't too fond of herself but she isn't so certain that she's stupid anymore. She manages; she's a survivor."It was chilling. I cheered for Paula at the end of the book.
Paula Spencer, a working class woman in Dublin, learns at the outset of the novel that her husband, Charlo, has been shot dead by the police. The incident sends Paula spiraling backward and forward in her memories to visit and revisit and revisit again and again key moments in her life. The fascination of the story comes in watching her carefully reframed memories struggle with and ultimately succumb to the reality of her abusive husband. She moves from dewy recollections of their courtship and honeymoon to vague notions that something bad happened to her at some point to finally understanding that terrible things happened to her at Charlo's hands and feet and forehead and elbow and... but believes she deserved it all. The process of accepting her own self-worth and placing blame where it belongs, with ever more rapid-fire and graphic memories of accelerating abuse, make the final fifty pages a powerful, wrenching read as Paula tries to draw meaning and redemption from her past. Even the final scene, in which she makes the choice that costs her a son in return for saving a daughter and, truly, herself, must be replayed twice, as if she's not quite sure that the first version and her interpretation of it were correct. Significantly, the second telling is identical to the first, the final interpretation secure and unassailable.Doyle captures the complex psyche of an abused woman and her tortured relationships with her parents, siblings, children, emergency room workers, and herself as she works to comprehend the truth of her life and separate it from the should-haves and what-ifs that dominated her adulthood.
I loved this one. It had what a really crave in a novel -- a strong believable voice. The narrator is working class Irish in love with a monstrous husband. The writing never falters, you always believe you're in her head.
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