Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize last year. Set on the north side of Dublin in 1966, it is the story of a ten-year-old boy, Paddy Clarke, told entirely in his voice. The events he speaks of are external. He doesn’t keep a diary or express feelings as they occur to him. Everything in the book has happened in school or at home, on the dreary streets of “Barrytown” or in the fields near the Clarkes’ house. Paddy tells of these episodes shortly after they have happened, with a few references to earlier ones. Mainly he reports his daily life, ordinary things. We soon come to know him through his care for father and mother, his cruelty toward his young brother Francis (“Sinbad”), bouts of mischief-making for the thrill of it, petty thefts from local shops, spurts of vandalism, soccer on the street, games, fights. We also come to sense his resilience, the freshness of his small life, the unabashed timbre of his voice. Mostly his story amounts to loss. He wants to stop his father from fighting with his mother. He tries to anticipate his father’s bad moods and to divert them by telling him a story or a joke. But it is no good. In the end, his father leaves home. The schoolboys jeer at Paddy:
Has no da.
Ha Ha Ha!
For no reason, Paddy rejects his best friend Kevin and beats him so savagely that the other lads at school boycott him. In the course of a year of losses, Sinbad becomes independent or indifferent and Paddy is left with the need of him Barrytown is another loss: once it was mostly fields, building sites, and open sewerage pipes, good for games and devilment, but much of this space is gone, the Corporation has built houses on it:
There were fields past the Corporation houses but they were too far away now. Past the Corporation houses. Somewhere else…. There were no farms left. Our pitch was gone, first sliced in half for pipes, then made into eight houses. The field behind the shops was still ours and we went there more often. Over at the Corporation houses, that end, wasn’t ours any more. There was another tribe there now, tougher than us, though none of us said it. Our territory was being taken from us but we were fighting back. We played Indians and Cowboys now, not Cowboys and Indians.
The book tells of the time in which everything went wrong for Paddy. Mainly what went wrong was his father, a warmhearted man to begin with, thirty-three years old, with a wife, four children, and a job of some kind in Dublin. The Clarkes are not poor; they have regular meals and a car. But there is something wrong. Paddy’s father becomes sullen, takes to drink, discontent, and violence. What does not go wrong is Paddy’s mother, lovable and endlessly…
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