The first reaction to knowing Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was the recipient of the Booker Prize is that 1993 must have been a minor year in the literary world. But closer observation reveals that not only were David Malouf (Remembering Babylon) and Carol Shields (The Stone Diaries) shortlisted, but it was also the year of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong and Pat Barker’s The Eye in the Door (to name but a few).
So just how did this occasionally engaging but somewhat dreary, slow and painful lament for the death of childhood walk away with one of the most prestigious of all literary prizes?
Roddy Doyle certainly has his plaudits – his first three novels, The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van (all set in working class northern Dublin and known as the Barrytown Trilogy) were hugely popular and adapted for screen (large and small). But sadly, his fourth, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha missed the ribald humour of Doyle’s earlier works.
Seen through the eyes and ears of 10 year-old Paddy Clarke, the eldest of four, the novel explores approximately one year of growing up in the changing world of the late 1960s. It is the story of family, school and friends, with the local lads running amok but firmly kept in check by parents and schoolteachers.
Spritely at first, a sense of inevitable doom pervades Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha as we slip from Paddy and his mates strutting the streets to a more poignant awareness of the disintegrating relationship of his parents. But there’s little sense of change in pace or prose and it is this repetition of unemotional observation by Doyle that leaves Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha somewhat flat and disappointing.