Book Review: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

At first glance, I must admit that it was the title ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ which caught my eye. I had purchased this book in 2008 while researching on a project about domestic violence. However, this book remained on my to be read list for several years. It is only recently that I finished the book.

‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ by Roddy Doyle charts the life of a middle-aged Irish homemaker, Paula Spencer, who answers the door to find the police officer, informing her that her husband Charlo’s death. It is here that she recounts memories of brutal abuse at his hands. With a series of flashbacks, we are acquainted how Paula came to marry a man who tortured and abused her for seventeen years and how she found the strength to kick him out of her house. Narrated in first person through flashback as a defence, her elder sister Carmel speaks up by laughing at Paula for inventing happy memories instead of confronting the truth head on. Through the unsteady relationship between the two sisters, we are told that their introduction to domestic violence has not been recent.

Paula’s father had been responsible for introducing her to the ugliness of domestic violence when she was still a child. She recounts seeing her father ruling over his wife and his household with an iron fist. As a child, she remembers seeing her sister Carmel being tortured and yet, in her defence mechanisms which have been to put to play, she justifies the violence as an expression of fatherly love. At this point, I must admit that the tone of the book is unprecedentedly frank in its portrayal of domestic violence. Alternating in phases with Paula’s life, the author creates a character recounting the turbulence in her life. With a rattled mind trying to put itself in order, the writing style seems natural. With dry insertions of humour and a fine eye for detail, the author makes Paula’s life seem alive, making her plight so vivid that it almost seems familiar.

This was the first book by Roddy Doyle that I read and it did not disappoint me. The fine eye for details and their complete transitions into gentler truths reflect wonderfully in the book. Reading about Paula Spencer, a mother of four who has been repeatedly battered finds consolation in alcohol and creates for herself a wall which is filled with self-loathing, we realise that the story is universal. The language and tone of abuse is so familiar that it seems normal. Yet, I must warn that it has some graphic descriptions about violence. ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ brings forward a new perspective on a topic which is normally brushed under the carpet.


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