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. –Kirkus Reviews
Know this classic? Pick up the sequel, Paula Spencer.