Can sobriety restore the children's love?
There's less drama but plenty of humanity in Roddy Doyle's sequel to 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.'
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During the decade that Paula has been scrubbing floors and picking up garbage, her country has changed around her, and Doyle details the impact the roaring "Celtic Tiger" and relaxed immigration laws have on even those who can't afford the new luxuries. For her birthday, Paula treats herself to a visit to a new Italian cafe, and Doyle makes the trip more memorable than a spree at Tiffany's. When she and her neighbor, Rita, pass a store named "Pride and Joy," Rita says that she knew the country was changing when the first kids' clothing shops opened.Skip to next paragraph
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"They were the proof, said Rita. – People had more money than they needed. It's great. I noticed them before all the new cars, said Rita. – And the talk about house prices. Even all the cranes."
Paula's response: "All I noticed was the price of vodka going up."
Sobriety hasn't swiped Paula's sense of humor. If anything, she's had to hone it more sharply to compensate for the lack of liquor.
"She comes home from work on the Dart on Thursday nights, on Fridays, surrounded by gin fumes, Guinness fumes. She's the only solid citizen on the train. It's how she copes. If you can't join them, beat them. She quite likes it, feeling superior. She sits on the Dart and tut-tut-tuts."
There's nothing easy, however, about taking sobriety one day at a time, and Doyle makes it clear that it's a mighty thin tightrope that Paula is walking much of the time.
She opens a bank account at a branch two miles from home to put some distance between herself and her savings. She hesitates to get a bank card.
"Does she trust herself? Not today. It's not about money. It's about being careful. She has to be careful. For the rest of her life. It's killing her."
But given that this is the same woman who 10 years ago could only hold off drinking until her youngest was in bed by locking the alcohol in the shed and throwing the key out into a dark garden, readers will be glad to cheer Paula on. And they'll share her delight in being able to sit in a cafe without the staff eyeing her warily.
Paula's kids, however, aren't ready to throw her a parade after a few months on the wagon. It would take a lake of homemade soup to make up for years of neglect. While Doyle throws in a possible romantic interest for Paula (a man she meets at the bottle return, a retired civil servant with neatly polished shoes, three grandchildren, a mobile home in Wexford, and "something steady" about him), the real love story is the one between the mother and her children.
"She loves her children," Paula tells herself. "That's easy to think. Easy to believe and say. Of course she does. She loves them. But she has to be able to point. That's my daughter. That's my son. There has to be pride. Who'd want to point at Paula and shout, 'That's my mother? There's no reason why any of her kids would do that. She has no right to expect it. She doesn't expect it."
But perhaps she will be able to earn it. Sobriety is a slow and steady process and while chronicling it gives "Paula Spencer" less of a dramatic arc than the one that enlivened "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors," the stakes in the sequel – redemption and forgiveness – are every bit as high.
• Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.