First, I want to share that this book is staying on my shelf to re-read again and again. Emma Donoghue recommended Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha at her book reading back in May and I randomly found a copy at the Goodwill in Maine and purchased it. And I am glad for both of these!
Second, the more books I read featuring young protagonists the more I wonder if I’m interested in just coming of age or if it’s the portrayal of youth and childish innocence. Does it stem from my own childish wonderment at the world? I have a paradoxical sense of both childish wonderment and aged skepticism.
It is the story of 10-year-old Patrick Clarke. He’s growing up with a younger brother and two younger sisters, his best friend is Kevin and they have a gang of friends that explore the neighborhood and cause as much trouble as 10-year-old boys cause.
Doyle’s narrative is interesting, it’s truly like a 10-year-old is talking to you (or you’re listening to me). As you’re reading, you’ll follow the actions and then Patrick throws in tangential facts. I LOVED this of course as the 10-year-old kids I know/knew wanted so much to impress you with what they know. I want to go back and reread the novel, but write 10-years-old on my hand so that I can remember how young he is throughout the novel, as I was reading I would forget and assume Patrick was older and then he would do something and it was brazenly obvious he was so young.
The novel’s structure is interesting and it annoyed me at first, but I got used to it and loved the random Gaelic words mixed into the text. There are no chapters and it doesn’t feel like it is very structured, but I think you’re just supposed to get the feeling of growing up and of Patrick’s evolving emotions/emotional turmoil. The emotions move from the light-hearted fun of priestly rituals and Cowboys and Indians with his group of pals to the real world harshness of beating up his best friend, being boycotted by everyone in his year and the quiet closing of the front door as his dad leaves for the final time. This is best portrayed by Patrick and his father’s interaction, from the fun and frivolity of being tickled by his father’s five o’clock shadow, to the handshake when his father returns for Christmas.
Quotes from Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
“I had a book on top of my head. I had to get up the stairs without it falling off. If it fell off I would die. It was a hardback book, heavy, the best kind for carrying on your head. I couldn’t remember which one it was. I knew all the books in the house. I knew their shapes and smells. I knew what pages would open if I held them with the spine on the ground and let the sides drop. I knew all the books but I couldn’t remember the name of the one on my head.” (75)
“I loved making stuff up; I loved the way the next bit came into my head, it made sense and expanded and I could keep going till I came to the end; it was like being in a race. I always won. I told it the second I made it up, but I believed it, I really did.” (229-230)
“The dark was the only thing to beat, and I’d beaten it. It didn’t scare me a bit. I liked it. It was a sign of growing up, when the dark made no more difference to you than the day.” (278)