By Roddy Doyle
Vintage, $26.95 | Reviewed by Jodie Mullish

RODDY DOYLE’s 1997 novel The Woman Who Walked into Doors was a worldwide success. A hit. A smash. Call it what you will, it invaded the literary scene with the same violence that Doyle’s character Charlo Spencer used to thump, kick, and rape his wife Paula. In that book, alcoholic Paula is recently widowed, and looks back on her pitiable life in the hands of the thuggish, dangerous Charlo; the searing emotional and physical abuse she suffered at his hands ensure she feels she’s nothing more than vessel for hate and shame.

A decade later, Doyle published a sequel. This time Paula Spencer is not merely the name of the woman, it’s the title of the book. On the eve of her 48th birthday, she has been sober for four months and five days, has her two youngest kids living at home and is holding herself together. Doyle mesmerizingly evokes poverty-stricken life in a rapidly changing multi-racial Dublin. He imbues Paula’s almost-childlike bemusement with sense of palpable pathos – her city has changed whilst she’s been living the nightmare cycle of beatings and booze.

Doyle’s language is sparse and conversational. In an Irish vernacular that brings all his characters to life, he expertly conveys horror, terror, fear and even comedy.

We see how the scars that Charlo left Paula mark more than her skin or her alcohol-ravaged liver. They run deep, through the shaky connections of her family. They are there in the sinking dread that takes Paula over when she reluctantly reads the signs of alcoholism in her daughter’s face, in the moving attempts to create a relationship with her ex-junkie son, and in the fiery guilt that burns through her, always.

Drink is a demonic character in itself, always lurking in the background, ready to pounce. Paula’s thoughts are peppered with the one that won’t go away; she’d love a drink. The reader never forgets for a moment that this woman is an alcoholic; and the entire novel is lent an air of taut suspense by the constant presence of temptation.

Despite subject matter which, in relating, sounds highly depressing, this is an uplifting novel. After years of unrelenting degradation Paula Spencer is a woman rediscovering her dignity, herself. Whether it be through the independence afforded by mobile phone, the joy at having just enough Euro in her pocket to afford food for her kids (the pride that she’s not spent it on spirits) or her rediscovery of rock music, Paula is slowly finding who out she is.

The title says it all. Ten years ago, she was nothing but The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. Now she is Paula Spencer.