Monday, January 5, 2009

1993 - Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha

It took me much longer than it should have to finish this slight, inconsequential novel. It won the Booker in 1993, but it's a bit of a mystery why that was so. I would have given the prize to Remembering Babylon by David Malouf, a much better and more significant book in every way.

Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha is written in the voice of Paddy, nine years old in the 1960s, watching The Man From UNCLE on TV and observing his parents' marriage break up. It's impressionistic, with (paraphrasing Jung here, about childhood memories) 'little islands of memories floating round in the vagueness of ocean'. These scraps of memory are not quite in sequence though there is a sense of dawning awareness that grows as the novel moves to its conclusion.

There's no plot as such, which is ok, but I'm not sure what its theme is either. In fact I'm not at all sure what Doyle is on about, except to depict the chaotic order of life in small boy gangs and the violence they impose on each other. Paddy is awfully cruel to his little brother, setting his lips alight with lighter fuel and delivering 'dead legs' and 'Chinese burns' as a matter of routine. The gang sets traps to delineate territory in their growing housing estate, and the 'Corporation' children set one of wire, causing one boy to almost lose his foot. All this is presented as the norm. It's rather disquieting.

The opening lines are an allusion to Portrait of a Young Man by James Joyce, but if there are other allusions as well, I failed to find them. If any such invisible allusions are what made it worthy of the Booker, then the judges have made a wrong assumption that readers will recognise it. Much too subtle for me, and I've read Portrait twice.

My overwhelming impression is one of distaste for the depiction of a savage little way of life.

I finished reading this book and journalled it on 6.8.03.
Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers

1 comment:

  1. Hi HillFamily,

    That was a very thoughtful post. I am glad I found it. i have recently read Paddy Clarke myself and I have a mixed opinion about the book. What you call 'cruelties' are actually a norm in many working class children who grow up with little parental monitoring. Young boys are often quite rough with each other even at play. Golding agrees with me in "Lord of the Flies' :-)
    I also loved the way the book has been written- I would think the technique is more 'stream of consciousness' than 'impressionistic'.
    But I do agree with you that the book after all is 'inconsequential'.
    I have written a review of the book here:
    Would love to know your thoughts on it.