Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 26, 2020

Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle, winner of the Booker Prize in 1993

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, cross-posting my reviews from The Complete Booker.
To see my progress with completing the Complete Booker Challenge, see here.

Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle, won the Booker Prize in 1993.

August 6th, 2003

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 6.8.2003



  1. I loved, loved, loved this book when I read it back in 1994. It presents an authentic view of working class Dublin life at a particular time. This is Doyle’s great contribution to Irish Literature: he has documented working class life from the 1960s onwards, one of the first, if not the first, to do so. I suspect he was one of the first to use (modern) Dublin vernacular, too.


    • LOL Kim it sounds like there’s a PhD in that proposition!


      • I suspect someone might have beaten me to it. I’ve pretty much read his entire output (minus the kids books and his American trilogy) and I think he’s an important voice in Irish life.


        • Probably just as well.. the cost of a university education is ridiculous now.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Tell me about it. Looked at cost of a graphic design degree & a marketing degree recently & nearly fell off my chair.


            • I had the same reaction to the cost of a masters degree in genealogy. It was all online too …


              • What’s the system in Britain, Karen? Here, undergraduates don’t have to pay upfront, but once their income reaches a certain threshold, they have to pay it back. And of course there is interest on the HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) so rich people pay upfront at the start, while the less well-off have to start paying it back right at the time they’re paying mortgages and having children. That certainly discourages further study.


            • It’s so stupid, and counter productive in the long run. We will end up educating foreign students at the expense of our own.


              • I benefited from free education. Fees came in during my last year of my undergrad degree but I got a HECS exemption scholarship and when I did my masters I got a two-year scholarship with stipend so I didn’t have to work a part-time job. It was brilliant.


                • Me too. I left school at 16 and was one of many women who were able to redress a lack of education when fees were abolished. And I would not have been able to do more than an undergraduate degree if I’d had to pay back fees.
                  So many things have gone wrong since the 1990s…


  2. I remember loving this when it came out, but I can hardly remember anything about it now. I definitely wouldn’t have got the Joyce allusions then – probably a re-read is long overdue!


    • Rather than a re-read, I’ve always meant to read something else of his to see if I like it better, but I’ve never got round to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this one too but I think that The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is his best work.


    • I’ll look out for that one, thanks for the recommendation.


  4. I think the stand-out element of this book is that it was the kind of story writers were discouraged from telling for many years, the nitty-gritty details underscoring an individual’s survival considered just as valuable as the more sweeping and grandiose stories deemed more acceptable. But perhaps that kind of story is ubiquitous today and makes Roddy Doyle seem less amazing than he was at the time? Interesting that you found allusions to Joyce. Must have made you feel quite clever in that instant. :)


    • LOL I only found one!
      You could be right about how story-telling has moved on…but I would argue that D H Lawrence and Thomas Hardy were doing that long before Roddy Doyle.


  5. There were some elements I enjoyed – like the exuberance of the kid’s games in the streets. But overall I found this a hard book to get through. It felt overly repetitive


    • I’ll be honest… even after reading my own review, I can barely remember it.


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