January 08, 2007 12:00 PM

by Roddy Doyle

CRITIC’S CHOICE

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN DURBIN

NOVEL

Booker Prize winner Doyle returns to the heroine of his 1996 novel, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, in this engrossing tale. Paula Spencer, 48, is a recovering alcoholic living in Dublin, a widow whose abusive ex-husband was killed by Irish police and whose children alternately loathe, pity and adore her. The novel takes place over a year in Spencer’s life when, seemingly, not much happens. She makes ends meet by working as a cleaning woman, once signing up for an outdoor garbage-pick-up job at a White Stripes concert; she bridges the gap between her two sisters and their health and love crises; she muscles her way through self-doubt and worries that her daughter may become an addict. Frets Spencer: “She’s been smoking in bed. Drunk and tired, out of her face…. She’s as stupid as me.” Doyle’s love of language and acute ear for dialogue keep his narrative thrumming, and Spencer’s reaction to her circumstances is inspiring. This is an extraordinary story about an ordinary life that requires almost no suspension of disbelief.

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