Paula Spencer

Paula Spencer

2.7 4
by Roddy Doyle

See All Formats & Editions

"Pure, undiluted pleasure" (The Washington Post) from Booker Prize- winning author Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle 's beautifully wrought tale revisits the Dublin housewife-heroine of his earlier acclaimed novel, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. Paula is now forty-seven, her abusive husband is long dead, and it's been four months and five days since she's


"Pure, undiluted pleasure" (The Washington Post) from Booker Prize- winning author Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle 's beautifully wrought tale revisits the Dublin housewife-heroine of his earlier acclaimed novel, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. Paula is now forty-seven, her abusive husband is long dead, and it's been four months and five days since she's had a drink. She cleans offices to get by and lives from paycheck to paycheck. But as she manages to get through each day sober, she begins to piece her life back together and to resurrect her family. Told with the unmistakable wit of Doyle's unique voice, this is a redemptive tale about a brave and tenacious woman.

Editorial Reviews

Paula Spencer, "the woman who walked into doors" in Roddy Doyle's 1996 bestseller, returns in another gripping stand-alone novel. Paula is now a widow (her abusive husband was killed by the Irish police) and has somehow managed to string together four months of sobriety. Concerns about abstinence occupy some of her thoughts, but what troubles her most are her fears that her children are irreparably damaged by their dysfunctional upbringing. What sounds like a dismal reading prospect is redeemed by Doyle's vivid portrayals of the multigenerational characters. A serious literary read.
James Hynes
… reading Paula Spencer is pure, undiluted pleasure, and it's not necessary to have read the first novel to thoroughly enjoy this one. Paula is still a very funny woman (and her sharp-tongued sister Carmel is even funnier), and Doyle himself is still the master of the extended set-piece. There's a lunch scene with Paula and her two sisters that goes on for 20 pages, and I read it twice, just because it was such fun and so beautifully crafted.
— The Washington Post
People Magazine
Engrossing...Doyle's love of language and his acute ear for dialogue keep his narrative thrumming, and Spencer's reaction to her circumstances is inspiring. This is an extraordinary story about an ordinary life that requires almost no suspension of disbelief.
USA Today
Beautifully nuanced and sweetly populist...It's a testament to Roddy Doyle's restrained, dryly funny writing that you walk away from his novel Paula Spencer rooting for the tattered yet doggedly optimistic husk of a woman trying to stay sober...this working woman's life of quiet, nearly impoverished desperation doesn't, on the surface, make for page-turning adventure. But you'll stick with Paula as Doyle gently celebrates her small but memorable victories.
San Francisco Chronicle
Paula Spencer is written with an immediacy that makes us feel like we've crawled inside her head...Doyle's pacing is extraordinary...the remarkable intimacy achieved using third-person narrative is partly what's enthralling here, but it's also the humanity, wit, and stubborn resilience...Doyle's new novel is an utterly convincing, worthy sequel.
The Wall Street Journal
A tale of ultimate personal struggle, and told superbly...[The book's] sparseness serves to ratchet up its intensity, compressing every episode and emotion...Paula Spencer is neither gloomy nor glib. It is not patronizing or falsely melodramatic. Instead it brims with compassion and acuity and Mr. Doyle shines a light on a supposedly ordinary life, tenderly illuminating its extraordinary contours.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution
As was the case with The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, Doyle's ability to capture the restlessness of his title character's mind makes Paula Spencer a nakedly personal tale...this is a book about a brave woman living a life of work and family. This is as real as realism gets.
The Christian Science Monitor
Sobriety is a slow and steady process and while chronicling it gives Paula Spencer less of a dramatic arc than the one that enlivened The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, the stakes in the sequel - redemption and forgiveness - are every bit as high.
Liesl Schillinger
In other books (notably The Snapper), Roddy Doyle has sometimes cut his heroines more slack, without depriving them of the authenticity of misfortune. It’s a tragic fact that abused, alcoholic women exist in abundance, and telling their stories in unsparing detail, as Doyle does, is both important and noble.
— The New York Times
The New Yorker
In this snappy, brilliant novel, Doyle revisits the life of Paula Spencer, the heroine of his 1996 book, “The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.” A decade on, Paula has been off the bottle for four months and five days, her abusive husband has been shot while robbing a bank, and her four children are—almost—grown: a daughter with a job in sales buys Paula one appliance after another in an effort to make her mom’s life work; a son, recovering from heroin addiction, shows up after an absence of nine years, competent and silent; her younger daughter is drinking herself senseless at twenty-two; and her younger son, worried and self-contained, is still in high school. Doyle’s depiction of a seething home life is penetrating, and Paula, as she patches a self together from remnants, emerges as an inspiring heroine without a hint of smarminess.
Publishers Weekly
The heroine of Doyle's 1996 bestseller, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, returns long widowed (abusive husband Charlo having been killed fleeing the Irish police) and four months sober. Those absences and old relationships mark the year we follow in Paula's new life: she worries that her daughter, Leanne, is following in her footsteps; negotiates her resentment of her bossy older daughter, Nicola; and reconciles with her son, John Paul, now a recovering heroin addict with two kids of his own. Doyle, Booker Winner for Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha and author of The Commitments, does a lot in this novel by doing little: it is John Paul's quiet distance, for example, that serves as a constant reminder of the horrendous mother and pitiful alcoholic Paula used to be. The newfound prosperity of Ireland affects Paula's day-to-day life on the bottom of the economic scale which suddenly looks a lot different. Paula's inner life lacks subtler shades, and her outer life is full of tiring work, abstinence from liquor and family. These aren't elements that automatically make for a have-to-read novel, but in this wholly and vividly imagined case, they do. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Loyal readers will recognize Paula Spencer as the battered but spunky survivor from Doyle's admirable 1996 novel, The Woman Who Walked into Doors. Now in her late forties, Paula has made some progress since the long-ago violent demise of her brutal husband, Charlo, though survival is day to day and dependent on her charwoman's wages. She has broken free of her addiction to drink-at least for four months and five days-and vows to stay sober, get her dysfunctional family in order, and, however tentatively, grab her piece of the action in Dublin's go-go "Celtic Tiger" scene. Related almost entirely in dialog, the story captures the lower levels of North Dublin's working-class populace, as represented by Paula, in the midst of cultural and economic upheaval. (The description of Paula's first visit to a new neighborhood Italian caf is worth the purchase price itself.) The four grown Spencer offspring, Paula's two sisters, and a promising romantic interest make up an entertaining supporting cast. Highly recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/06.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An intimate, humane portrait of a working-class Irish woman's pleasures and struggles in her first year of sobriety. Doyle fans first met Paula Spencer in Doyle's critically acclaimed novel, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (1996), the story of Paula's alcoholism, her marriage to the wild, abusive Charlo and their four children. This book opens eight years later, on Paula's 47th birthday. Charlo is dead, two of Paula's children are grown and have children of their own and Paula is four months and five days sober. Some big things happen in this novel-fights, sickness, reconciliation-but they are not the story's focus. Instead, Doyle employs his trademark narrative style, an almost exclusive use of dialogue and fragmented inner monologue, to convey the thousand tiny moments of despair and triumph that make up Paula's daily life. To the middle- class observer, Paula lives a drab, working-class existence cleaning houses and stadiums in Dublin. But to be an ordinary person is a source of great joy to Paula. Like a woman who has returned from the verge of death, she can't get over her luck. That she has money in her pocket and the occasional day off from work, that she is able to savor good coffee in the Italian cafe in her neighborhood where, she's pleased to note, they trust her not to run off without paying-all are sources of joy. "It's grand," Paula says. As she gradually builds a new life, it's a phrase she uses again and again. Profound, subtle and unsentimental-the latest from a master back in top form.
From the Publisher
"An extraordinary story about an ordinary life."

"Brilliant . . . And Paula, as she patches a self together from remnants, emerges as an inspiring heroine."
-The New Yorker

"Beautifully nuanced and sweetly populist."
-USA Today

"A tale of ultimate personal struggle, and told superbly."
-The Wall Street Journal

Product Details

Knopf Canada
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

She copes. A lot of the time. Most of the time. She copes. And sometimes she doesn’t. Cope. At all.

This is one of the bad days.

She could feel it coming. From the minute she woke up. One of those days. It hasn’t let her down.

She’ll be forty-eight in a few weeks. She doesn’t care about that. Not really.

It’s more than four months since she had a drink. Four months and five days. One of those months was February. That’s why she started measuring the time in months. She could jump three days. But it’s a leap year; she had to give one back. Four months, five days. A third of a year. Half a pregnancy, nearly.

A long time.

The drink is only one thing.

She’s on her way home from work. She’s walking from the station. There’s no energy in her. Nothing in her legs. Just pain. Ache. The thing the drink gets down to.

But the drink is only part of it. She’s coped well with the drink. She wants a drink. She doesn’t want a drink. She doesn’t want a drink. She fights it. She wins. She’s proud of that. She’s pleased. She’ll keep going. She knows she will.

But sometimes she wakes up, knowing the one thing. She’s alone.

She still has Jack. Paula wakes him every morning. He’s a great sleeper. It’s a long time now since he was up before her. She’s proud of that too. She sits on his bed. She ruffles his hair. Ruffles — that’s the word. A head made for ruffling. Jack will break hearts.

And she still has Leanne. Mad Leanne. Mad, funny. Mad, good. Mad, brainy. Mad, lovely — and frightening.

They’re not small any more, not kids. Leanne is twenty-two. Jack is nearly sixteen. Leanne has boyfriends. Paula hasn’t met any of them. Jack, she doesn’t know about. He tells her nothing. He’s been taller than her since he was twelve. She checks his clothes for girl-smells but all she can smell is Jack.
He’s still her baby.

It’s not a long walk from the station. It just feels that way tonight. God, she’s tired. She’s been tired all day. Tired and dark.

This place has changed.

She’s not interested tonight. She just wants to get home. The ache is in her ankles. The ground is hard. Every footstep cracks her.

Paula Spencer. That’s who she is.

She wants a drink.

The house is empty.

She can feel it before she shuts the door behind her.


She needs the company. She needs distraction. They’ve left the lights on, and the telly. But she knows. She can feel it. The door is louder. Her bag drops like a brick. There’s no one in.

Get used to it, she tells herself.

She’s finished. That’s how it often feels. She never looked forward to it. The freedom. The time. She doesn’t want it.

She isn’t hungry. She never really is.

She stands in front of the telly. Her coat is half off. It’s one of those house programmes. She usually likes them. But not tonight. A couple looking around their new kitchen. They’re delighted, opening all the presses.

Fuck them.

She turns away. But stops. Their fridge, on the telly. It’s the same as Paula’s. Mrs Happy opens it. And closes it. Smiling. Paula had hers before them. A present from Nicola. The fridge. And the telly. Both presents.

Nicola is her eldest.

Paula goes into the kitchen. The fridge is there.

–You were on the telly, she says.

She feels stupid. Talking to the fridge. She hated that film, Shirley Valentine, when Shirley talked to the wall. Hello, wall. She fuckin’ hated it. It got better, the film, but that bit killed it for her. At her worst, her lowest, Paula never spoke to a wall or anything else that wasn’t human. And now she’s talking to the fridge. Sober, hard-working, reliable — she’s all these things these days, and she’s talking to the fridge.

It’s a good fridge, though. It takes up half the kitchen. It’s one of those big silver, two-door jobs. Ridiculous. Twenty years too late. She opens it the way film stars open the curtains. Daylight! Ta-dah! Empty. What was Nicola thinking of? The stupid bitch. How to make a poor woman feel poorer. Buy her a big fridge. Fill that, loser. The stupid bitch. What was she thinking?

But that’s not fair. She knows it’s not. Nicola meant well; she always does. All the presents. She’s showing off a bit. But that’s fine with Paula. She’s proud to have a daughter who can fling a bit of money around. The pride takes care of the humiliation, every time. Kills it stone dead.

She’s not hungry. But she’d like something to eat. Something nice. It shocked her, a while back — not long ago. She was in Carmel, her sister’s house. Chatting, just the pair of them that afternoon. Denise, her other sister, was away somewhere, doing something — she can’t remember. And Carmel took one of those Tesco prawn things out of her own big fridge and put it between them on the table. Paula took up a prawn and put it into her mouth — and tasted it.

–Lovely, she said.

–Yeah, said Carmel. –They’re great.

Paula hadn’t explained it to her. The fact that she was tasting, really tasting something for the first time in — she didn’t know how long. Years. She’d liked it. The feeling. And she’d liked the prawns. And other things she’s eaten since. Tayto, cheese and onion. Coffee. Some tomatoes. Chicken skin. Smarties.She’s tasted them all.

But the fridge is fuckin’ empty. She picks up the milk carton. She weighs it. Enough for the morning. She checks the date. It’s grand; two days to go.

There’s a carrot at the bottom of the fridge. She bends down — she likes raw carrots. Another new taste. But this one is old, and soft. She should bring it to the bin. She lets it drop back into the fridge. There’s a jar of mayonnaise in there as well. Half empty. A bit yellow. Left over from last summer. There’s a bit of red cheese, and a tub of Dairygold.

There’s a packet of waffles in the freezer. There’s two left in the packet — Jack’s breakfast. There’s something else in the back of the freezer, covered in ice, hidden. Stuck there. The package is red — she can see that much. But she doesn’t know what it is. She’d have to hack at it with a knife or something. She couldn’t be bothered. Anyway, if it was worth eating it wouldn’t be there.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"An extraordinary story about an ordinary life."

"Brilliant . . . And Paula, as she patches a self together from remnants, emerges as an inspiring heroine."
-The New Yorker

"Beautifully nuanced and sweetly populist."
-USA Today

"A tale of ultimate personal struggle, and told superbly."
-The Wall Street Journal

Meet the Author

Roddy Doyle is an internationally bestselling writer. His first three novels—The Commitments, The Snapper, and the 1991 Booker Prize finalist The Van—are known as The Barrytown Trilogy. He is also the author of the novels Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993 Booker Prize winner), The Woman Who Walked into Doors, and A Star Called Henry, and a non-fiction book about his parents, Rory & Ita. Doyle has also written for the stage and the screen: the plays Brownbread, War, Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner, and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors; the film adaptations of The Commitments )as co-writer), The Snapper, and The Van; When Brendan Met Trudy (an original screenplay); the four-part television series Family for the BBC; and the television play Hell for Leather. Roddy Doyle has also written the children's books The Giggler Treatment, Rover Saves Christmas, and The Meanwhile Adventures and contributed to a variety of publications including The New Yorker magazine and several anthologies. He lives in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Paula Spencer 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as gut-bustingly funny as the Barrytown Trilogy, but Doyle brings Paula and her family alive and tells a tale of hope despite all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago