The Woman Who Walked into Doors

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Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors will astonish readers with its heartrending story of a woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem. Paula Spencer recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her feeling powerless. Capturing both her vulnerability and her strength, Doyle gives Paula a voice that ...
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The Woman Who Walked into Doors

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Overview

Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors will astonish readers with its heartrending story of a woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem. Paula Spencer recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her feeling powerless. Capturing both her vulnerability and her strength, Doyle gives Paula a voice that is real and unforgettable.

Doyle's 1993 Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was hailed as "a small, resonant masterpiece . . . heartbreakingly right" (Entertainment Weekly). His latest book, his richest work yet, will astonish readers with its heartrending story of a woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem.

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Editorial Reviews

Charles Taylor

If Roddy Doyle hadn't earned his chops as a hugely entertaining pop novelist with The Barrytown Trilogy, he probably wouldn't be turning into such a fine "serious" novelist. The Barrytown Trilogy were comedies about the glue that holds families together. The humor came from the loving, blunt, unsentimental way the characters talked to each other. The books he's written since then, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, and the new The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, are borderline tragedies whose protagonists are trying to keep their families from flying apart.

Paula Spencer is a 39-year-old mother of four, an alcoholic doing her damnedest to raise her kids alone since kicking out her abusive husband, Charlo. The novel begins with Paula being told that Charlo has been shot by the police after killing a woman in a bungled robbery attempt.

Writing in the first person for the first time (and in a woman's voice), Doyle has joined his plain-spoken style to a heightened sense of observation and a wounding emotional power. What's most devastating in the section where Paula details Charlo's abuse is its matter-of-factness. "A taxi to the hospital. He held my hand and put his free arm around my back to keep me steady. . . He chatted with the driver. He was relaxed, in control, looking fter me. . . He had just pulled my arm out of its socket, less than an hour before."

There's no self-pity in Paula, and Doyle doesn't shy away from the economic pragmatism (or Charlo's sexual magnetism) that keeps her in the marriage. What's toughest about Doyle's view of Catholic culture is that, like John N. Smith's film The Boys of St. Vincent, it has the guts to suggest that, in some basic way, abuse is the logical outcome of a culture where power belongs to a chosen few and it's the duty of the unlucky rest to suffer and serve. Paula's refusal to do that is the book's shaky affirmation, an unlikely example of how no can mean yes. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Ireland, the euphemism "she walked into a door" is so loaded with grim implications of domestic abuse that it is usually whispered, not spoken. In this astonishing new work from Doyle (whose most recent novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, won the 1993 Booker Prize), Dublin housewife and mother Paula Spencer narrates her life as a spouse who walks into doors. Hopelessly in love with heavy drinker and relentless sadist Charlo, Paula is gradually engulfed in psychic darkness, every last particle of self-esteem literally beaten out of her. The devastation of her world is made even more wrenching by her chatty, captivating storytelling, flush with Doyle's knack for Dublin humor, vernacular and local color. With this book, Doyle attains a new level of excellence. He writes about a woman's experience with a perception that is rare, a compassion that is scorching and an uncompromising frankness that splinters his heroine's suffering directly into the reader's heart. Doyle triumphs here, with a tough-minded but deeply moving exploration of a wretched marriage, a microcosm of a pervasive situation in Ireland that few will acknowledge.
Library Journal
Booker Prize winner Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, LJ 12/93) writes of a woman's recovery from alcoholism and an abusive marriage.
Library Journal
Booker Prize winner Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, LJ 12/93) writes of a woman's recovery from alcoholism and an abusive marriage.
Jennifer Henderson
Proud of her early-developed breasts, Paula O'Leary "went with" lots of boys from her working-class Dublin neighborhood. With perfectly timed dance moves to "My Eyes Adored You," Charlo Spencer takes her. But he changes after their honeymoon. When Charlo first strikes her, she is stunned. His violent outbursts increase as slaps and bruises become yanked-out hair, broken fingers, and knocked-out teeth. While raising four children, she continues to be abused; she loses self-respect, denies how bleak things are, and drinks heavily. Once after blackening her eye, Charlo asks how she got it. Knowing his reaction depends on her answer, she claims to have walked into the bedroom door. Doyle's first novel, The Commitments, was turned into a successful film; a subsequent one, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, won the 1993 Booker Prize. Here the reader can cinematically envision Paula Spencer getting beaten down while friends, family members, and emergency-room staff blame her "accidents" on alcohol. Yet she never gives up, always washes off the blood, and knows she must continue for her children's sake. This gut-wrenching novel will be much discussed by groups of physically abused people.
Kirkus Reviews
A skillful mixture of buoyant farce and wrenching drama from the popular Irish author (The Commitments, 1987; Bookerwinner Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, 1993, etc.).

Doyle's protagonist and narrator, Paula Spencer, will remind readers of the hilariously feisty, foulmouthed women of his earlier books. Indeed, Paula's a match for any of them as she recalls episodes from her experiences as competitive sibling and worldly- wise schoolgirl, moonstruck young wife, and, finally, embattled mother. And the core of her adult life is her terrified relationship with abusive husband Charlo, a charismatic monster whose unpredictable swings between tenderness and violence keep the hopeful Paula in a constant state of submissive confusion. ("He loved me and he beat me. I loved him and I took it. It's as simple as that, and as stupid and complicated.") Charlo's uncontrollable thuggishness eventually removes him from her life for good, but that isn't the end of her trouble. Doyle's masterly use of jabbing, staccato sentences and emotional repetitions produces a nervous intensity that exactly reproduces how his heroine—and she is that, no other word will do—lives out her imperilled days. The novel is filled with sharply observed, amusingly distinctive characters, including even Paula's young children. Hardly any other writer alive can create families and neighborhoods full of mutually involved people with such easy authority. And nobody alive uses filthy language with such exuberant expressive virtuosity. Only in the closing pages, when Doyle's empathy with his character's plight takes on some of the righteous quality of a case study, does the grip falter. Even so, few readers will be able to look away even for a moment.

Some may object that Doyle, having perfected a winning formula, is merely writing the same raucous story of small-town Irish life over and over. Well, let them. It's a bloody wonderful story.

From the Publisher
“Roddy Doyle’s unsparing examination of a brutal marriage transcends the boundaries of class and nationhood.”
The Times

“Paula Spencer may be Doyle’s most successful literary creation yet, a tour de force of literary ventriloquism that gives the lie to the old writing workshop canard that a man can’t write from the point of view of a woman, let alone in her voice.”
Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780224042727
  • Publisher: Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/26/1996
  • Pages: 226

Meet the Author

Roddy Doyle

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.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012

    Excellent

    This novel was written by a man but really gets into the heart of a woman. It tells the story of an alcoholic, poor battered Irish woman. It is told with sensitivity and heart. The stream of consciousness storyline only reinforced the chaos that characterised her life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Depiction of a Womans Battered Soul

    This is the first book I have ever read by Roddy Doyle. The story is told with both accuracy and sensitivity yet it took off on a few directions which made it drag a bit. The author really didn't get into Paula Spencer's battered soul until the last 50 pages or so. It took a lot of pre story to get to that point. I was hoping to get a bit more on life being a victim of domestic violence. I will say it was wel written and an acurate story told by a male author. He shows some sensitivity which was nice.

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  • Posted October 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Simply Amazing

    I had to read this book for an advanced reading class and I have to say out of all the books we had to read, this one was my absolute favorite. I never read a book that implemented that writing style, the confusion and intermixing of past present and current timing really pulled me. I felt this woman's pain; I questioned her sanity, her choices and even her uncertain future. It was a very good read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2007

    the woman who couldn't stop reading

    I am a huge Roddy Doyle fan and this lives up to my expectations of him. I loved Paddy Clarke HA HA HA and look forward to reading Paula Spencer. This story was moving and gripping and ultimately very sad. You could feel the pain and the struggle against the bottle and her confusion of why she stayed married to the man who beat her. She freely admitted that she loved him too much to leave. The way she felt about her children was so honest. It is so hard to believe that this was written by a man and not an abused/ alchoholic woman.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2000

    Clumsiness

    Roddy Doyle¿s latest novel, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, is not a book that I fell immediately in love with. Doyle speaks through the voice of Paula Spencer, a woman recovering from both alcoholism and an abusive marriage. His plot jumps around erratically; the chapters jolt from her husband¿s death to Paula¿s early relationship with him. Stylistically bare, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is Doyle¿s assertion against domestic violence. However, despite the confusing plot and the Doyle¿s blatant solicitation of emotions, Paula Spencer has a realness and an honesty that caught me by surprise. The novel opens with a young, nervous Guard at Paula¿s door. She knows before he even tells her that her husband is dead. The next chapter is Paula¿s first encounter with Charlo Spencer¿her future husband. The rest of the novel jumps back and forth from Paula¿s struggle with alcoholism to her days in grade school and to her wedding night. Its erratic plot lends disorder to the story, a characteristic that does not necessarily detract. Instead, it adds to the sense that Paula is speaking to, almost chatting with, the reader. Reminiscent of a made-for-television movie on Lifetime, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is obviously making a political statement¿Paula constantly cries for someone to notice her plight. ¿I¿d have told them everything, I swear to God I would have. If they¿d asked. I¿d have whispered it. If they¿d asked first¿ (202). Doyle is trying to provoke action about domestic violence, and chooses to use the voice of a woman struggling with it herself, rather than by making a generalized statement about abusive relationships. He finds a powerful means to get his point across with Paula Spencer¿s believable genuineness. Paula¿s character has an honesty and a dignity that make it hard to believe she is fictional. Roddy Doyle¿s voice has brilliantly disappeared, and Paula comes alive as a human being¿with both strengths and faults. She loses herself in her own lies, ¿Once, I heard a woman near me telling the nurse that she¿d walked into a door, and I believed her. I felt sorry for her¿ I never once thought that I wasn¿t the only one who¿d been put there by her husband¿ (200). Her sincerity is tragic and convincing at the same time. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is not an easy novel to like¿nor is it easy to forget. Despite a confusing plot, and a cry for action against domestic violence, Roddy Doyle makes Paula Spencer a completely convincing character. He manages to tell her story through her eyes¿without an apology, and without self-pity. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a moving novel¿powerful and vulnerable at the same time.

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    Posted December 25, 2009

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