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VINE VOICEon 26 February 2007
Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958 and saw his first novel, "The Commitments" published in 1987. It was later adapted for the big screen, a version that saw Star Trek's Colm Meaney and a very young Andrea Corr among the cast. Doyle went on to win the Booker Prize in 1993 with "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha". This is his sixth novel and was first published in 1996.

"The Woman Who Walked Into Doors" is set in Dublin and is told by Paula Spencer, a woman in her late thirties. Both Paula's parents are dead, while only two of her siblings `appear' in the book - her sisters, Carmel and Denise. She did have another sister, Wendy, who died in a motorbike accident, while her brothers - Roger, Edward and George - are only ever mentioned in passing. Paula's relationship with her father had once been good, though it seemed to have deteriorated as time went on. [...]. Paula, meanwhile, hasn't Roger in years, and isn't particularly bothered about it - theirs was another difficult relationship.

However, it's Paula's relationship with her husband, Charlo, that's central to the book. They have been separated for over a year as the book opens - though they are still technically, married. They couple had four children together, three of whom still live with Paula. (She hasn't seen her eldest son, John-Paul, in quite some time: she last heard of him squatting in some flats and suspects he's on heroin). She works as a cleaner, just about earns enough to make ends meet and is an alcoholic. As if all that isn't enough, the book opens with the arrival of a policeman at her front door to inform her of Charlo's death. Paula spends the book looking back over her life in general and her time with Charlo in particular.

While it isn't always a very cheerful book, Paula's story isn't one that will leave you feeling depressed. She proves to be a character you want the best for and, not only does she manage to raise a smile from time to time, she also manages to leave you with a bit of hope. Absolutely recommended.
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on 13 September 2005
I found this book to be a completely convincing account of an abused wife and mother, as well as a subtly moving and well crafted read. However, the central characters' lack of individuality, dependence on her husband Charlo and unwillingness to leave the man whose beatings she endures for years...might not endear some of you to her. Certainly those of you who prefer independent and feisty characters and who shout at the pages when they don't assert themselves will very likely find this book difficult, as I did to some extent.
But it's not just the content here that makes for often frustrating reading, but also the style- any other author dealing with the same topic would surely sensationalise the story of a character like Paula, but this story has more of a true-to-life feel in that the main character isn't made particularly sympathetic by Doyle- events are recounted as they happen with little emotion or judgement attached. And since only the events of Paula's past relevant to her current predicament (i.e. meeting, marrying and having children with her husband) are explored in the story...the reader doesn't get to see Paula as anything other than a daughter, wife and mother- the roles she plays with no concept of herself outside those signifiers. So putting it bluntly- following a character who acts solely as a cipher to those around her doesn't make for thrilling reading, especially as she does very little to become anything more, or even has any great desire to leave her husband. But in spite of her temperament, or perhaps because of it, I definitely sympathised with her and found it easier as a result to believe how she could stay with her abusive husband, as she really doesn't see any viable alternatives.
Although adding to the reader's discomfort- the acerbic and emotionless tone of the narration works well in complimenting the torture Paula endures at the hands of her spouse. But it isn't just the grim tone, or even the descriptions of physical violence here that makes for depressing reading- it's Paula herself. The ease with which she grows accustomed to such barbaric treatment over time and how she becomes this person who cares so little for herself has a stark quality that's genuinely unnerving.
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on 9 October 1998
Rarely is an author capable of writing the voice of the opposite sex in a realistic, un-gender-biased manner. Doyle's Paula is heartbreakingly real, both as a character and as a woman. Abuse is a painful topic to read about, and the diary-like frankness with which we learn about Paula's life is brutal yet without self-pity. She tells the story beginning to end, with the love and fear, hate and happiness as it happens. The regrets are obviously there, but the underlying power of this woman who survives, after everything, just I'm a huge Doyle fan in general. While this is a departure from the hilarity of the Barrytown Trilogy, and is a heavier undertaking than Paddy Clark (which is another incredible book) it it a fantastic book and a highly recommended read.
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on 14 May 2001
I hated "Paddy Clarke ha ha ha" and was unable to finish it; but with this book Doyle redeems himself. A sensitively told story of Paula's life, and told with such empathy that it is hard to believe that it was not written by a woman, as parts of it strike a chord of guilty recognition. Paula sense of self-worth has been ground down by her education to the point where she believes the brutality she suffered at the hands of her husband was inevitable: "That fist was always coming towards me". The irresistably bad Charlo is himself damaged and the product of another brutalised upbringing, without enough love. Paula triumphs in the end, breaking the cycle of brutality as she determines her daughter will not suffer as she was. This is a story which needed to be told; as Paula had been invisible for so many years as no-one even questioned her injuries. Like Joyce's Dubliners, the characters are afflicted by paralysis and unable to break out of their cycle of their miserable lives. Compulsive reading.
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on 3 September 2003
The most unforgettable of Paddy O'Doyle's books which I read years ago during the last painful years of my marriage. It explains convincingly why women stay in abusive relationships. Although not in a violent marriage, I identified so well with guilt-ridden Paula who is convinced that she somehow brings on her husband's abusive behaviour. Like so many women, she lives from one day to the next hoping in her despair of that day that everything will be fine tomorrow. Paula shows us, how high our threshold of pain is and how our virtue - endurance - becomes our doom. It takes years of suffering for Paula to realize the tomorrows keep turning back into the todays and that she needs all her courage to break out of the cycle. A book which will make you think. Dealing with a depressing topic, the book still gives me goosebumps.
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on 15 September 2000
I had to read this for one of my modules on my degree course. I would have never picked it up otherwise, but I have never been so glad that a book was on my reading list! I really felt for Paula. To me, she became a real person, not just a character, After a couple of pages I completely forgot that the book was written by a man. It was such a tragic story, yet heartwarming and funny at the same time. If you liked "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha", you'll love this!
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on 30 August 2005
This is a story told by a man, but you'd never guess. This is a story about a woman. This is the story of Paula. Paula was once young, sexy, pretty and full of hope; but Paula, by the time you meet her has become "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors" Through this intimate tale, Doyle brings us to an understanding of how the subtle judgments of society degrade and devalue its weakest members. But this story also leaves the reader with the helpless frustration, of the bystander, who would help if only they weren't on the outside. This story is painful. Sometimes you need to put it down. But as salty as the inevitable tears taste, the story remains peppered with humour; and as tragic as the journey, Paula remains massively brave, and for that you keep willing her on!
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on 10 March 2000
There is a little bit of Paula in all of us. A young woman drawn to the boy that you knew your mother would hate, Charlo, he oozes badness from every pore but it someone who we can all relate to. We have all been there, snogging the bad lad in the local disco, defying our parents wishes to find a decent young man. Rodddy Doyle excels himself here in his first novel written through the eyes of a young Dublin woman, he writes with such truth and reality that all women can identify with this book, a tear jerker, a shocker, one that you certainly can't put down.
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on 12 August 2013
It almost seems redundant to review this book as it's almost universally adored and well-received critically, but what the hey. The book details the life of a woman terrorised by a man but never pitiful, never pathetic. The protagonist is funny and wise and despite the awfulness we know she is experiencing throughout the story, we feel hope for her. That is the incredible achievement Roddy Doyle managed with this modern classic - we're appalled by what this woman goes through but never feel she has any fault. He captured the complexity of abuse with unparalleled humour and empathy. An absolute must.
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The Barrytown trilogy and `Paddy Clark, Ha, Ha, Ha' were the greatest feel good comedies to come out of Ireland and `The Van' and `Paddy Clark, Ha, Ha, Ha' were respectively and justifiably nominated for and awarded the Booker Prize. So the question was where next? Roddy didn't leave Barrytown for his next project but showed us it's seedier underbelly in the dark and harrowing TV show `Family'. This introduced us to the Spencer family with its domestic violence and abuse. Each episode focussed on a member of the family, Charlo, John-Paul, Leanne and Paula `The Woman Who Walked into Doors.'

Although grim `Family' didn't quite prepare us for `The Woman Who Walked into Doors' which was quite a departure for Roddy. As with `Paddy Clarke, Ha, Ha, Ha' the book is written in the first person and again the form was a complete success with Paula's voice being totally convincing. That Paddy Clarke, a ten year old boy, could be brought to life by a middle aged man was a testament to Roddy Doyle's talent but that he could give voice to an alcoholic working class woman in an abusive relationship is quite unbelievable. Literature is littered with talented male writers who's writing of women parts is two dimensional and unconvincing, so to tackle this is the first person and with such emotive subject matter was a huge risk. Fortunately it succeeded and the book is a triumph as indeed in Paula's part in the battle of life.

The story works well within the form switching from childhood, adolescence and different stages of the marriage to allow the reader to piece the story together but still not prepare them for the ending of the book. I was so impressed with this form that when I decided on the subject matter of my own novel I used it as the template to tell a very different story.

When I first read `The Woman Who Walked into Doors' I didn't know how Roddy Doyle could follow `Paddy Clarke, Ha, Ha, Ha', I certainly had no idea it would be possible to better it.
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