The Celtic tiger

<strong>Paula Spencer: a novel</strong>

Roddy Doyle <em>Jonathan Cape, 277pp, £16.99</em>


Roddy Doyle is best known for his novel The Commitments, an anarchic tale of an up-and-coming Dublin band. But even the light-hearted moments of that book are underpinned by a partially hidden world of deprivation, violence and addiction.

These themes are the focus of Paula Spencer, whose title character is a fortysomething recovering alcoholic, suffering the after-effects of an abusive marriage and struggling to maintain a relationship with her four children. Paula's daughter, Leanne, is a heavy drinker on course to repeat her mother's mistakes.

Meanwhile, the city around Paula is undergoing rapid transformation thanks to the "Celtic Tiger" - Ireland's economic miracle. The once-drab estate on which she lives has been infiltrated by gastropubs; immigration has given it a multicultural feel. In Paula's eyes, everyday activities such as cooking dinner or visiting a café are frighteningly new experiences.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Doyle's characteristic warmth shines through - particularly in moments of tenderness between Paula and her son, Jack, who is embarrassed by his mother's attempts to keep up with pop music or use the internet. Doyle tells this tale of redemption with insight and respect.

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