The Woman Who Walked into Doors tells the story of Paula Spencer from her childhood through to her late thirties. At the opening of the novel, we know that she has kicked her husband out following a number of instances of abuse, although they are still officially married. Told as a stream of consciousness, her story is largely linear, but with intermissions as we find out what is happening in the present day.
What really impressed me about this book was the way in which Doyle successfully adopts a woman’s voice. There are no gender stereotypes, no cheesy, cringe worthy statements from Paula that no real woman would ever say. Instead, we have a strong, feisty, complex protagonist and it’s easy to forget that she was penned by a man, so realistic is the portrayal.
This isn’t a particularly complex novel – we know the outcome from the beginning, but the journey there is heart-breaking. As a child, no one seems to expect much of her. In secondary school, there are the usual complexities of growing up and fitting in. As an adult, she meets Charlo, gets married and becomes pregnant, and becomes a victim of his fists. It’s not all doom and gloom, and Paula tells her story in a matter-of-fact tone, but central to the story is Paula’s abusive marriage and worsening alcoholism, and there are times when it isn’t pleasant.
Paula isn’t a reliable narrator, and there are instances in her story where we find contradictory views, particularly between her and her sister Carmel, and we wonder whose version is true. Don’t expect to get all the answers from this novel, though – there is no moment where everything becomes clear, but, as in real life, we have different people with different views from which the reader must draw their own conclusions.
I’ve not read anything by Roddy Doyle before this, but I’ll certainly pick up more of his work now. I’m particularly keen to read Doyle’s follow up to this novel, Paula Spencer, which picks up Paula’s life a decade or so after the events portrayed here.