My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Sigh. The last time I was suckered into reading a Booker Prize winner and disliked it was Ben Okri’s Famished Road.
When I was in university, the imprimatur of a Booker Prize told me that the book was worthy of attention, of world-class quality and that I should really get around to reading it.
All of my friends read Booker Prize books!
So, seeing this on the bookshelf of my AirBNB apartment, and having read a Roddy Doyle book or two in the past, I thought I’d pick it up and see what the fuss was about.
There’s no doubt that Doyle is a fine writer, and he inhabits the character of a young boy, mischievous, tough and poor, all of ten years old. We are let into his world, of shifting friendships, a disliked teacher, rough games in the neighbourhood, a younger brother loved and hated. His relationship with his parents is mostly loving, though his father’s mood changes often.
The entire drama of the book is hinted early: Paddy detects problems between his parents, and doesn’t know what to make of them.
The thing is: he inhabits this boy perfectly, and do I really want to hang around a 10-year-old boy for the length of an entire book. Too often, characters of children in adult literature or wise beyond their years in a way that you just have to accept that it is the way the story is told.
But here no. What I did find magical was this inhabiting of a consciousness, where the adult reader knows more of what’s going on in than the narrator, and how different scenes are drawn in short, colourful brushstrokes that say a lot. And yet, I would have preferred a novella or short story. Too much of the book was the same, his love-hate relationships with other boys in the neighbourhood, the long roaming around.
Perhaps it just depends on the reader whether Paddy’s world is going to interest you or not, and whether Paddy will grab your heart. For me, not really, and as I remember enjoying other Doyle books much more, for the humour and dialogue and (adult) characters, this was a disappointment, in spite of poignant literary bang at the end.