Book 404: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (Paula Spencer #1) – Roddy Doyle

Doyle, Roddy - The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (Paula Spencer #1)After seeing someone else post about Doyle recently, I decided I needed to bump this one up my list. It’s been on my shelf since December 2012 when I picked it up at the Harvard Bookstore Warehouse Sale. I had no idea it was a two book series until I started this one and Goodreads had the convenient link to the other book, Paula Spencer, which I will read at some point.

Let’s start by saying that if I judged Ireland solely by the books I read it would be full of gays, wars, alcoholics and abuse. For some reason, perhaps it’s that chip on Ireland’s shoulder, but every single book I’ve read set in Ireland deals with the darker side of humanity. And as much as I know this isn’t true, it makes me wonder what else is out there in Ireland because it can’t all be this depressing!

It was very difficult not to compare this novel to Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha as that’s the only other novel by Doyle I’ve read. The primary similarity was Doyle’s mastery of first-person narrative. In both stories I was completely consumed by the narrator and their story. There was no removing myself from the story or from the feelings created no matter how much I tried.

Paddy Clarke was easier to identify with, but this one definitely had more gut wrenching moments. I think when I read the following passage toward the end of the novel it really hit home how serious this book was and how serious these situations are for thousands of people around the world.

“I didn’t exist. I was a ghost. I walked around in emptiness. People looked away; I wasn’t there. They stared at the bruises for a split second, then away, off my shoulder and away. There was nothing there. No one looked; eyes stared everywhere else. I could walk down the street, I could sit in the church at mass, I could go up for communion. I could answer the door, I could get on the train, I could go to the shops. And no one saw me. I could stand at a checkout and empty my trolley, pay for what I was buying. I could hand over my money and get my change and stamps. I could push past people and let them past me. I could say Please and Thank You. I could smile and say Hello. I could smile and say Goodbye. I could walk through crowds. I could see all these people but they couldn’t see me. They could see the hand that held out the money. They could see the hand that held open the door. They could see the foot that tried on the shoe.They could see the mouth that spoke the words. They could see the hair that was being cut. But they couldn’t see me. The woman who wasn’t there. The woman who had nothing wrong with her. The woman who was fine. The woman who walked into doors.” (186-187)

I didn’t read the back of the book as usual before starting and I’m very glad I didn’t. If I had read it I would’ve put off reading this book even longer. (Maybe that’s another sign against trigger warnings? [link to The Atlantic article])

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a story of survival and it is not a pretty story. It’s a story that you experience every second of from the over-sexualized antics of the primary school room to the knock down drag out abuse. Doyle walked a fine line of allowing Paula to become a victim of her circumstance (and fall prone to the victim pathology) and of allowing her to become a survivor with a story to tell. I’m hoping this is further explained/cleared up in the sequel published, and taking place, ten years later.

If there was one thing I didn’t like it was a stylistic choice of either Doyle or his editors. There were no quotation marks for dialogues, just m-dashes, similar to when I read Things Fall Apart in high school. It was jarring and occasionally I would forget it was dialogue and have to rethink a scene once I’d finished.

Recommendation: If you’ve got the stomach for it, this is definitely a book worth reading. I don’t recommend going into it as blind as I did, but I’d try to keep as much noise as you can away from you as you read it. This will definitely take a few days to digest.

Opening Line: “I was told by a Guard who came to the door.”

Closing Line: “I’d done something good.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)

Additional Quotes from The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
“It was a fright, finding out that I was stupid. Before I even got in the door. He read out the names, through the Fs and the Gs, up towards the Os, and first five times he went past me and the yard got emptier and emptier. And I wanted to cry. I had all my books. They were all in my bag; it weighed a ton. My uniform except the socks. Bottle green; I loved it. And it started to rain. All my friends except Fiona had gone through the door into the school. And I didn’t like Fiona as much as the others. She was so full of herself.” (28)

“But sometimes I can’t help thinking that I could have avoided it, I could have been cleverer. I could have made the fuckin’ tea.I’d done fuck-all all day; it wouldn’t have killed me. He’d had his moods before. I’d seen them. I recognised them. I should have seen it coming. Instead, I provoked him. And now, here I am.” (169)


12 thoughts on “Book 404: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (Paula Spencer #1) – Roddy Doyle”

  1. I thought this was a very brave and honest book though not one of his best. I would reassure you that Ireland is much more than you’ve gleaned so far – as testimony to that Doyle’s own books of The Van and The Snapper are hilarious – and if you’re an aficionado of pubs ( I am!) his short Two Pints and Two More Pints are very very funny ( though full of those same speech marks that irritated you!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haahaa I would hope it was more than all I’ve read about. I thought it was just interesting that those are the works and authors that get the recognition that I’m at least privy to. I’ll have to keep an eye out to those others you mention.


      1. You should. Mind you – while it’s great – if you think Woman Walked Into Doors was a misery-fest try Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – brilliant but not to be entered into lightly!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been wanting to read Two Pints since I saw it on Col’s blog a while back. I had no idea the rest of his books were so dark, but I did really love that passage you shared.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I mean Paddy Clarke isn’t that dark but it’s not a fun read either. I’ll definitely have to check out his “lighter” stuff because he is a beautiful writer.


  3. I’ve also noticed that books by Irish authors seem to be very dark! I was recently in Dublin and felt as though all the books I could pick up there were darker than what I usually read. Even the rom-com kind of a book I’ve read by an Irish author, The Woman Who Stole My Life, was pretty depressing for that genre. The one exception I can think of is Cecelia Ahern, who is Irish and writes some of my favorite heart-warming stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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