Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the story of a ten-year-old Irish boy in 1968. The book is told in Paddy’s voice, and Roddy Doyle captures the confusion and attempts to make sense of the world that go along with being 10, suppositions and extrapolations that children make. Paddy on death and religion:
When Indians died – Red ones – they went to the happy hunting ground. Vikings went to Valhalla when they died or they got killed. We went to heaven, unless we went to hell. You went to hell if you had a mortal sin on your soul when you died, even if you were on your way to confession when the lorry hit you. Before you got into heaven you usually had to go to Purgatory for a bit, to get rid of the sins on your soul, usually for a few million years. Purgatory was like hell but it didn’t go on forever.
It was about a million years for every venial sin, depending on the sin and if you’d done it before and promised that you wouldn’t do it again. Telling lies to your parents, cursing, taking the Lord’s name in vain – they were all a million years.
Robbing stuff out of shops was worse: magazines were more serious than sweets. Four million years for Football Monthly, two million for Goal and Football Weekly. If you made a good confession right before you died you didn’t have to go to Purgatory at all; you went straight up to heaven.
Most of the book is little bits like this, short vignettes about Paddy’s adventures with his friends. Paddy’s perspective seems spot on to me, though I’ve never been a small boy.
Interspersed amongst Paddy’s adventures and fights is a more serious story line, that of the crumbling marriage of his parents. They fight, increasingly often, increasingly loudly. At the beginning of the book, Paddy’s little brother, Sinbad, is able to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, but by the end, there’s no pretending anymore. In my mind, the section of the book that is dedicated to this storyline was stronger than the somewhat rambling nature of the rest.
But it took two to tango. He must have had his reasons. Sometimes Da didn’t need reasons; he had his mood already. But not all the time. Usually he was fair, and he listened when we were in trouble. He listened to me more than Sinbad. There must have been a reason why he hated Ma. There must have been something wrong with her, at least one thing. I couldn’t see it. I wanted to. I wanted to understand. I wanted to be on both sides. He was my da.
The poignancy and sadness of this last section made the rest of the book worthwhile to me. Getting into Paddy’s head first did help to give weight and depth to the more serious part. But I will admit that I had some trouble getting through the majority of the book, because I kept waiting for something to happen beyond random tellings of steeplechases through the neighborhood and kids beating each other up.