Roddy Doyle,
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
(Secker & Warburg, 1993;
Penguin, 1995)

I've seen the movies. Now it's time to see what novelist Roddy Doyle is made of when he's not filtered through a camera's lens.

The answer: delightful! Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha reads like a whirlwind of youthful pep that may leave the unwary reeling dizzily in its wake.

Paddy is set in 1960s Barrytown and is told entirely through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. Paddy is inquisitive. He's adventurous, but bookish, too. He likes to cause trouble with his friends, but rarely anything too terribly serious. He doesn't like school but loves to learn. He takes pleasure in the world around him as only a child can.

Doyle's voice in this book is pure kid. Through him, Paddy speaks in circles and tributaries, sinking into one topic before roaring off on a tangent. Sometimes he'll come back on track, and sometimes the original thread will disappear forever.

This is how a child thinks. This is how a child talks. Doyle has it right.

The book is not all larks, however. No child's life is. Mixed in with the sports, picnics and puppies are pieces of real life. Sickness. Consequences for mischief. Brotherly affection and rivalry. Schoolyard friends and foes. Teachers good and bad. And a growing rift between his parents that Paddy, at 10, can't quite comprehend.

I love him. He was my da. It didn't make sense. She was my ma.

Paddy believes that, through vigilance and good intentions, he can stem the tide that divides his parents and reknit his family. How many children have believed the same thing?

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is a wonderful slice of childhood. Everyone will recognize something of themselves in young Paddy -- even if they didn't grow up in Ireland or in that generation. Happy and sad -- this book is real.

Doyle is ridiculously popular in his native land, but he hasn't developed much of a fan base beyond Ireland's shores. Based on this book alone, I'd say the world needs to wake up.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 19 April 2003

Buy it from