Roddy Doyle

"Paula Spencer"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple APR 16, 2007)

"She wants a drink.  Now.  She can feel it, here, still fresh.  She sits because she tells herself to.  She'd rather be busy.  She's better off moving…She'd like to relax.  She'd like to learn to.  But relaxations' a bit of a trap.  She sits back and it sits beside her.  The need, the thirst—it's there, here."

Continuing the story of Paula Spencer, the main character in 1997's The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Booker Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle focuses on this survivor of horrific spousal abuse who has found her only solace in alcohol.  As this novel opens, Paula Spencer and her children have been on their own for twelve years, and Paula's husband Charlo has been dead for eleven of those years.  For this entire period, however, Paula, now forty-eight, has been lost in a fog of alcohol and has been sober for only the past four months.  Her eldest daughter Nicola has had to act as the mother of the family and caretaker for Paula, her irresponsible mother.

Read ExcerptThe novel follows Paula through the throes of sobriety, detailing every aspect of her life, which "without her husband, has been better than life with him."  She has, however, lost the trust and respect of her children, and she is determined to take back her life and become responsible for herself and her family, all of whom have problems.  Nicola, married with children of her own, has been financially responsible for most of the family's basic needs for eleven years, and now, as an adult, she checks up on her mother, mentors her brother and sister, and even buys the family refrigerator.  Paula's son John Paul, who became addicted to heroin at age fourteen, ran away from home and did not reconnect with his mother for years.  Leanne, now twenty-two and living at home, is an alcoholic, and Jack, nearly sixteen, has closed himself off from his mother.

The novel, almost plotless, is an intense study of Paula's growth as she goes through the business of living an ordinary life—cleaning houses by day and offices by night, fretting about money and her need for a new coat, doing the family wash and making soup, visiting her senile mother, and saving for a computer for Jack and a CD player for the house.  Though she is needy and has little confidence, she is determined not to return to drinking, and as Doyle takes us step by painful step through her everyday life, we see her slowly growing, becoming the person she wants to be, and taking control of her life for the first time since her marriage.  As she becomes more responsible, she also gains confidence, reconnecting with her sisters, forming some new relationships,  and, clumsily, trying to become a real mother to her neglected family.

Doyle's style perfectly suits Paula's first-person narrative—short staccato sentences which reflect her nervous attention to simple actions, a style which emphasizes Paula's reactions to what is happening around her, rather than description.  Her internal monologue and her conversations with her children and sisters reveal her past history and her present hopes and dreams.  She struggles and shares her doubts, always realistic about her fears of backsliding and never expecting a rosy future or magical transformation—just a better future for herself and her children. 

Abrupt and sometimes terse, Doyle's narrative style reflects Paula's gradual progress and small victories, the prosaic details of her life told in the simple style of a woman who sees her life as a series of small steps.  The limited scope of Paula's life and her everyday problems open up to reveal universal themes and truths--the age-old yearning to become independent, to accept responsibility, and to achieve some personal respect.  A memorable, carefully drawn study of the human spirit as it renews itself.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Paula Spencer at

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Bibliography: (with links to

Barrytown Trilogy:

  • The Commitments (1987)
  • The Snapper (1990)
  • The Van (1991)

The Last Roundup Trilogy:

Paula Spencer Novels:

Kids Books:


Movies from books:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Roddy DoyleRoddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958 and grew up in Kilbarrack, Dublin. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from University College, Dublin. He spent several years as and English and geography teacher before beoming a full-time write in 1993 He writes drama and screenplays as well as novels. His novel The Van shortlists for the Booker Prize and his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the 1993 Booker Prize.

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