Monday, 30 August 2010

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

by Roddy Doyle

This is sort of a review of two books, not one. The first is the excellent Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

 I've enjoyed quite a few adult books written from the perspective of a child -- and I'd include The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas in that category (it was on the adult book table when I picked it up four years ago.)

This is the best, though. This is the most authentic trip inside a ten-year-old's head I have ever taken. And by ever, I mean in the last twelve years and four months.

It all comes down to what is relevant to whom. In a child's world, the narratives that are being played out are completely different. He doesn't even notice the things that would be central in the adult's view of the same story. Instead, he picks up on things we're too used to seeing to notice.

And he splices anecdotes together like the postest, modernist cat there is. Sometimes he tells us nothing, sometimes he fires information at us like a machine gun. Not only does this echo perfectly with how the inside of my head used to be, but it's also completely hilarious. It's a sad book, but the Ha Ha Ha of the title is a fairly accurate review on its own.

It's plotless, sort of. Again, that comes down to the child's perspective. The single 'plot event' in the book happens in the last dozen pages, but it's only our adult perspective that labels that as the 'plot event' in the first place. The main movement in the book is the shifting atmosphere of the child's world. Paddy Clarke is zooming out: what used to be the whole picture for him is now just one small part of it.

It's unfortunate for Jeremy Dyson that I started reading his novel What Happens Now straight after Roddy Doyle's slice of excellence.

What Happens Now starts off from a child's perspective: and it doesn't match up. Rather than being plotless, I'm overly aware of events being pointed out as 'significant'. Rather than entertaining prose, the overly serious Alastair Black is taken too seriously by the book itself.

It's not at all a bad book. If I hadn't been recently spoilt by Roddy Doyle, I probably would have enjoyed it. But as it happens, I didn't finish it. By the time it got to a critical semi-rape scene, I wasn't involved enough to see it as sad; only distasteful.

It's an interesting point, tht I've overlooked before: how much does our reading context affect our view of a book? If you read a debut novel after a Booker prize winner (like here), is that fair? What if you read a book about train crashes on a long train journey?

1 comment:

  1. Ah, nice - I love books like this. Brings me back to childhood without having to crap through YA books. :) Roddy Doyle's another one of those novelists whose always lingering at the back of my reading consciousness, and always seems to hit the cutting room floor when I make a haul of novelists-I-haven't-read books. Maybe I should try him?