Roddy Doyle

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

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Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha Summary

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Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is a coming-of-age novel written in 1993 by Irish author Roddy Doyle. Ten-year-old Patrick Clarke narrates a year of his life as he transitions from carefree prankster to man of the house when his parents’ marriage falls apart. With his use of clipped dialogue, Irish vernacular, and stream-of-consciousness narration, Doyle vividly depicts the small but meaningful everyday experiences and emotions of his naïve child narrator.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is set in the late 1960s in the fictional north Dublin community of Barrytown. Patrick is the oldest child in a working-class family. His ma maintains the home routine, playing the role of comforter while looking after Patrick’s younger sisters, toddler Catherine and infant Deirdre. Patrick is named after his da, who works in the city. Da’s moods keep Patrick on his toes. Patrick says that da would “be mean now and again, really mean for no reason…He was always busy. He said. But he mostly sat in his chair.” Francis, nicknamed “Sinbad,” is Patrick’s quiet younger brother, whom Patrick torments mercilessly, kicking him, pinching him, getting him in trouble at home, and even helping his friends set Sinbad’s lips on fire with lighter fuel, saying “It went like a dragon.”

Patrick delights in running with his friends, Kevin, Liam, and Aidan, causing no end of mischief in their small community. Kevin is the leader of their gang, and together they take joy in playing with their pretty neighbor’s knickers on the clothesline, setting fires, shoplifting for the thrill of it, giving each other dead legs and Chinese burns, and scuffling to maintain their group hierarchy.

Patrick’s vivid imagination is influenced by television and film, from The Three Stooges (Kevin pokes Patrick in the eyes) to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, to popular westerns. He and his friends act out Father Damien and the lepers, and Geronimo, renegade Apache. They run the Grand National over their neighbors’ hedges until Liam breaks his teeth. They get into scrapes at school and clash with their dictatorial teachers, especially Master Hennessey, “Henno.” Patrick does well at school, although he keeps his intelligence on the down low. He enjoys reading under his blankets with a flashlight (even though he doesn’t have to) because it is simply more exciting that way. Throughout his jumpy, episodic narrative, he incorporates historical, religious, and natural history facts that often reflect what is happening in his life at the moment. When contemplating running away, for instance, he considers the history and animal life of Rhodesia.

Patrick begins to notice changes at home and in the neighborhood. The open farmland bordering Barrytown is transitioning to construction sites as a new housing development—the “Corporation”—is going in. At first, this provides more opportunities for play as Patrick and his friends race through sewage piping and write in freshly poured concrete. But as families move into the new houses, they bring a new “tribe” of tougher kids, who infringe on Patrick’s territory. Patrick realizes that he and his friends are playing “Indians and Cowboys, now, not Cowboys and Indians.” Charles Leavy, one of the new boys, is a hardened tough guy, indifferent and cold, whom Patrick admires and wants to emulate.

Things are also changing at home. Ma and Da are arguing and fighting, and Patrick doesn’t know why: “I didn’t understand. She was lovely. He was nice.” Da begins drinking and gets physically abusive toward Ma. Patrick burdens himself with trying to make the house more cheerful, to deflect his parents’ arguments and stop the fights. He stays in the kitchen studying when he doesn’t need to in order to make his parents laugh. He does his chores without complaint, so no one gets upset. When he hears arguing in the night, he gets up to interrupt it, saying he is thirsty or needs to use the bathroom. Eventually, Patrick realizes that he can’t fix things at home, saying, “It wasn’t lots of little fights. It was one big one, rounds of the same fight.” Sinbad is also growing apart from Patrick, and Patrick can’t figure out how to make his little brother know how much he really cares about him.

Patrick gets into a serious, brutal fight with Kevin that is far different from their typical tussles. After the fight, Patrick is boycotted by his friends, but Patrick is glad to be left alone. Patrick’s da leaves home and the boys at school tease Patrick, chanting “Paddy Clarke—Paddy Clarke—has no da. Ha ha ha!” To which Patrick declares, “I didn’t listen to them. They were only kids.” The shortening of Patrick’s name to Paddy, his ma’s nickname for his da, suggests that Patrick is now stepping into his father’s shoes and becoming the man of the house in his absence. When his da comes home to visit just before Christmas, Patrick greets him with a formal handshake.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction in 1993, which is awarded for the best original novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom.