FEATURE RODDY DOYLE
Roddy Doyle has left behind the raucous street humour of The Comnn'nneins and The Snapper in his latest novel. a powerful tale of a woman beaten by her husband. He speaks to Deirdre Molloy.
The game of commitment
f some books monitor a nation‘s pulse. so
do some days. and we meet Ireland‘s best
known living author Roddy Doyle on one
of those days. The switchboard of Gay
Byrnc's morning show on RTE radio is
jammed with callers voicing amusement and delight after a frisky Nelson Mandela ‘proposed‘ to a young lrish journalist covering President Mary Robinson‘s state visit to South Africa.
Global competition also impinges: the Republic‘s football team are playing Russia in Dublin tonight in their first international match under new boss Mick McCarthy. Roddy Doyle will be watching. and he knows they face an uphill climb alter the string of abject defeats since l99() that signalled Jack Charlton's waning managerial powers.
But with eight hours until kick-off. Doyle is focused on matters still closer to home. Sitting in Dublin's cultural hub. Temple Bar. he is discussing his new novel The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. The euphemistic title refers to the excuse commonly given by women beaten by their partners to explain away their injuries.
This is Doyle‘s fifth novel. following the international success of The CommihnenIs. The Snapper. The Van. (translated into 2| languages) and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ila. which scooped the 1993 Booker Prize. After that boyhood sojourn in l96()s Barrytown. The Woman Who ll’alked Into Doors plunges into Dublin‘s more depressing present. catching up with Paula Spencer. the embattled mother in Doyle‘s I994 BBC television drama The Family. now taking stock of her life two years down the line.
‘Part four of The Family caused an uproar here
in Ireland.‘ says Doyle of the drama‘s concluding episode. which reveals Paula’s
alcoholism and the physical abuse she endures from her charismatic but violent husband Charlo. While The Family‘s high-octane portrait of petty crime and domestic disarray rang true with many lrish viewers. it also provoked a barrage of hostility. ‘There was a big body of people who had no time for Paula‘s predicament whatsoever.‘ says Doyle. ‘But when l was writing the script for that episode I thought: “What about all the rest of her life?" ljust felt there was an awful lot more to her.’
Written over two years. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is testament to Doyle‘s maturing authorial powers. The careering comic scenarios and combustious Doyle‘s first three novels. known as the
6 The List 19 Apr-2 May 1996
[hirryioit-n Trilogy. depended largely on the writer‘s flair for dialogue. The elegiac l’addv ('larke was a departure from that: it w as a prose experiment that captured the freeflow scatology of a child‘s absorptions and cttriosity. By
contrast. his latest novel is a minefield of controlled introspections and emotional drop/ones. Paula’s narrative is by turn
melodramatic. blinkered and candid. foremost in Doyle's mind while writing it yy as the need to give Paula an independent voice. ‘I wanted it to be her story completely and utterly.‘ he reflects. ‘I think it‘s a standard question people will ask -— Why did she marry that guy in the first place'.’ — and the book was an opportunity for her to explain that.‘
Paula is an unreliable witness to her own life. but her realism. and all the contradictions that go with it. are her strengths as a character. ‘I wanted to avoid the pitfalls of neat explanations and sociological cliches.’ says the author.
‘Fans are generally conservative: they don’t want change, they want more of the same. That’s easy it you’re Bon Jovi because you can only play two chords, but I’m just writing for myself.’
elaborating on the challenge Paula‘s creativity posed for him. ‘While she is trying to be brutally honest. she is also using the writing as a sort of trial within her head and she wants the outcome to be favourable.‘
Paula‘s interleaving memories and images of herself range from ‘Me then‘: a savvy twelve- year-old with a string of naive. short-trousered boyfriends. to ‘Me now‘: a 39—year-old woman with a string of cleaning jobs who swoons to Van Morrison on (‘D while recalling the thrill of Charlo eating chips out of her knickers on an early date.
Amid all this it is easy to forget the narrative of The Woman Who ll’alked lnro Doors is created by a man. Doyle reckons the luxury of writing full-time. afforded to him since he packed in his fourteen-year teaching job. enabled him to enter more fully into his characters mind.
The book‘s harrowing subject matter might be off-putting to some readers expecting more (‘ommitmenrs-style. off-killer tnayhcm. but Doer is wary of fandom. ‘Fans are generally conservative: they don‘t want change. they want more of the same. That‘s easy if you‘re Bon Jovi because you can only play two chords. but I'm just writing for myself. I never think about the impact
of the book or sales. lf lid written The Woman Who. .. with the hope that Sally field would read it and buy the option on the film rights. then it wouldn't be the book I wanted to write.‘
('loser inspection of Doyle‘s (‘\" reveals a penchant for diversity. Since 1984. he has written two plays. invented the l‘arouk imprint to self-publish The ('ommnme/ns and written the television screenplay for The l'amlly. Most recently. along with Lynda Myles. film producer of The ('onnnlhnenls and The Snapper. Doyle has set up his own film company to adapt The ion for the big screen.
Directed by Stephen lirears. the film has been shot over nine weeks in Ireland this spring. This time Doyle scripted (mil ctr-produced the film. an experience he describes as ‘really invigorating. adding: ‘I haven‘t been so engrossed in anything since the first months of my teaching.‘
‘lt was fantastic having Roddy on set full— time.‘ says Myles. ‘Stephen lircars likes having the writer who he‘s working with around. and Rodtly‘s incredibly open to discussion. Also Roddy knew a lot of the cast and crew. and all the extras knew him ~- often he’d taught their children or grandchildren. or even them!‘
The Snapper won prize at (‘annes in I993. and The liin is being submitted this year. Doyle was unable to go to the film festival in 1993 — he was caught up in exam-time back home. Myles and lirears ended up sharing the stage with a pantheon of great directors. ‘lt’s sad now because of Louis Malle‘s death.‘ says Myles. ‘but he and Robert Altman were so generous about the film. It was a great night and I‘ve always been sorry Roddy missed it. Hopefully he'll be there this year.‘
(’annes I996 would be a great way for Doyle to celebrate his 38th birthday. It would also be a chance to sport his new haircut — a debonair suedehead — on a stage. Doyle‘s creeping ' paranoia that he was beginning to resemble Jack (‘harlton drove him under the barber's humming blade. Which brings us conveniently hack to where we started: that football game. Ireland lost Z—nil to Russia.
Still. expecting miracles overnight would be comparable with expecting Doyle to settle down and become a mascot for his country. His parting advice is: ‘Despite what you‘re reading in the papers. be wary of lrish beef. If it doesn‘t have BSlE. it may well have bovine TB or angel dust in it.‘ If they look at you funny in the butchers. tell ‘em Roddy told ya. The pulse. indeed.
The Woman Who Walked Tlllo Doors is published by .lonalhan ('ape at £74.99.