Paula Spencer
By Roddy Doyle
Published by Viking Adult
January 2007; 0670038164; 288 pages

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Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle

She copes. A lot of the time. Most of the time. She copes. And sometimes she doesn’t. Cope. At all.

This is one of the bad days.

She could feel it coming. From the minute she woke up. One of those days. It hasn’t let her down.

She’ll be forty-eight in a few weeks. She doesn’t care about that. Not really.

It’s more than four months since she had a drink. Four months and five days. One of those months was February. That’s why she started measuring the time in months. She could jump three days. But it’s a leap year; she had to give one back. Four months, five days. A third of a year. Half a pregnancy, nearly.

A long time.

The drink is only one thing.

She’s on her way home from work. She’s walking from the station. There’s no energy in her. Nothing in her legs. Just pain. Ache. The thing the drink gets down to.

But the drink is only part of it. She’s coped well with the drink. She wants a drink. She doesn’t want a drink. She doesn’t want a drink. She fights it. She wins. She’s proud of that. She’s pleased. She’ll keep going. She knows she will.

But sometimes she wakes up, knowing the one thing. She’s alone.

She still has Jack. Paula wakes him every morning. He’s a great sleeper. It’s a long time now since he was up before her. She’s proud of that too. She sits on his bed. She ruffles his hair. Ruffles — that’s the word. A head made for ruffling. Jack will break hearts.

And she still has Leanne. Mad Leanne. Mad, funny. Mad, good. Mad, brainy. Mad, lovely — and frightening.

They’re not small any more, not kids. Leanne is twenty-two. Jack is nearly sixteen. Leanne has boyfriends. Paula hasn’t met any of them. Jack, she doesn’t know about. He tells her nothing. He’s been taller than her since he was twelve. She checks his clothes for girl-smells but all she can smell is Jack.
He’s still her baby.

It’s not a long walk from the station. It just feels that way tonight. God, she’s tired. She’s been tired all day. Tired and dark.

This place has changed.

She’s not interested tonight. She just wants to get home. The ache is in her ankles. The ground is hard. Every footstep cracks her.

Paula Spencer. That’s who she is.


She wants a drink.

The house is empty.

She can feel it before she shuts the door behind her.


She needs the company. She needs distraction. They’ve left the lights on, and the telly. But she knows. She can feel it. The door is louder. Her bag drops like a brick. There’s no one in.

Get used to it, she tells herself.

She’s finished. That’s how it often feels. She never looked forward to it. The freedom. The time. She doesn’t want it.

She isn’t hungry. She never really is.

She stands in front of the telly. Her coat is half off. It’s one of those house programmes. She usually likes them. But not tonight. A couple looking around their new kitchen. They’re delighted, opening all the presses.

Fuck them.

She turns away. But stops. Their fridge, on the telly. It’s the same as Paula’s. Mrs Happy opens it. And closes it. Smiling. Paula had hers before them. A present from Nicola. The fridge. And the telly. Both presents.

Nicola is her eldest.

Paula goes into the kitchen. The fridge is there.

–You were on the telly, she says.

She feels stupid. Talking to the fridge. She hated that film, Shirley Valentine, when Shirley talked to the wall. Hello, wall. She fuckin’ hated it. It got better, the film, but that bit killed it for her. At her worst, her lowest, Paula never spoke to a wall or anything else that wasn’t human. And now she’s talking to the fridge. Sober, hard-working, reliable — she’s all these things these days, and she’s talking to the fridge.

It’s a good fridge, though. It takes up half the kitchen. It’s one of those big silver, two-door jobs. Ridiculous. Twenty years too late. She opens it the way film stars open the curtains. Daylight! Ta-dah! Empty. What was Nicola thinking of? The stupid bitch. How to make a poor woman feel poorer. Buy her a big fridge. Fill that, loser. The stupid bitch. What was she thinking?

But that’s not fair. She knows it’s not. Nicola meant well; she always does. All the presents. She’s showing off a bit. But that’s fine with Paula. She’s proud to have a daughter who can fling a bit of money around. The pride takes care of the humiliation, every time. Kills it stone dead.

She’s not hungry. But she’d like something to eat. Something nice. It shocked her, a while back — not long ago. She was in Carmel, her sister’s house. Chatting, just the pair of them that afternoon. Denise, her other sister, was away somewhere, doing something — she can’t remember. And Carmel took one of those Tesco prawn things out of her own big fridge and put it between them on the table. Paula took up a prawn and put it into her mouth — and tasted it.

–Lovely, she said.

–Yeah, said Carmel. –They’re great.

Paula hadn’t explained it to her. The fact that she was tasting, really tasting something for the first time in — she didn’t know how long. Years. She’d liked it. The feeling. And she’d liked the prawns. And other things she’s eaten since. Tayto, cheese and onion. Coffee. Some tomatoes. Chicken skin. Smarties.She’s tasted them all.

But the fridge is fuckin’ empty. She picks up the milk carton. She weighs it. Enough for the morning. She checks the date. It’s grand; two days to go.

There’s a carrot at the bottom of the fridge. She bends down — she likes raw carrots. Another new taste. But this one is old, and soft. She should bring it to the bin. She lets it drop back into the fridge. There’s a jar of mayonnaise in there as well. Half empty. A bit yellow. Left over from last summer. There’s a bit of red cheese, and a tub of Dairygold.

There’s a packet of waffles in the freezer. There’s two left in the packet — Jack’s breakfast. There’s something else in the back of the freezer, covered in ice, hidden. Stuck there. The package is red — she can see that much. But she doesn’t know what it is. She’d have to hack at it with a knife or something. She couldn’t be bothered. Anyway, if it was worth eating it wouldn’t be there.

Copyright 2006 Roddy Doyle
Reprinted with permission.

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When Roddy Doyle published The Woman Who Walked into Doors in 1996, critics and readers alike hailed it as a tour de force of literary ventriloquism that captured both the vulnerability and strength of a thirty-nine-year-old Dublin housewife with a fondness for drink. Now, Doyle triumphantly returns to Paula Spencer with the moving tale of her fight for a better future.

Paula is now almost forty-eight years old. Her abusive husband Charlo is long dead, and it’s been four months and five days since she’s had a drink. Her youngest children, Jack and Leanne, are still living with her, but she worries about Leanne. Paula continues to work as a cleaner, and the fridge is often half empty. But for the first time in her life she is going to parent-teacher meetings, and she’s bought a CD player for the kitchen, where she surprises her sisters with her taste for U2 and The White Stripes. Readers will root for Paula as she slowly begins to put her life back together. She’s even met a man at the bottle return; he’s nice, there’s something steady about him. Told with the unmistakable wit of his extraordinary voice, this is a redemptive tale that will have Doyle fans cheering.

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Roddy DoyleRoddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958 and grew up in Kilbarrack, Dublin. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from University College, Dublin. He spent several years as and English and geography teacher before beoming a full-time write in 1993 He writes drama and screenplays as well as novels. His novel The Van shortlists for the Booker Prize and his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the 1993 Booker Prize.

He lives in Dublin.

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