A great book! Just so good. A more perfect account of childhood is difficult to imagine. The entire book is written from the perspective of the 10 year old eponymous character, and it’s just uncanny how perfectly Roddy Doyle captures the thought processes and language of being that age. I remember feeling and talking exactly the same way as Paddy when I was a child, so much so that at times it got a little bit too uncanny for comfort. Part of that has to do, I’m sure, with the fact that I was born and raised in Kilbarrack, the real name of Barrytown, the northside suburb of Dublin where most of Doyle’s novels are set, and so I knew exactly where Paddy was talking about when he talked about the old train bridge, the seafront, and the shops. Now, I was born ten years after the novel is set, so the transformation that Paddy witnesses, from semi-rural hinterland to bustling suburb of housing estates and Corporation houses, was already complete by the time I was born, but still, there’s something about reading a book set on the very road you grew up on that is a little disconcerting.
But this book isn’t just about what it was like to grow up on the northside of Dublin in the mid 60s. Paddy’s hopes, fears, motivations, triumphs and failures would be familiar to anyone, and it’s to Doyle’s credit that he’s able to give both a brilliantly evocative portrayal of those particular times, and an almost perfectly accurate account of being child more generally. He does such a great job of reproducing the confused and excited stream of consciousness of childhood, which jumps from football to friends to dinner to school to parents to telly in the blink of an eye. The way Paddy deals with his world, his curiosity, the way he makes sense of the things that present themselves to him, how he handles the frustration of being a relatively powerless observer of the events going on around him, it’s just perfectly told. It rang so true. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever read before.