BOOK REVIEW / Some mucking about and the dewy stuff, too: Ten is not too young to be a hero, as Giles Smith finds in Roddy Doyle's new novel: Paddy Clarke ha ha ha - Roddy Doyle: Secker & Warburg, pounds 12.99

A COMMON piece of wisdom suggests that people shouldn't write novels until they've knocked about a bit and experienced a few things to put in them. In which case, 10 seems as good an age to start as any. At 10, Paddy Clarke has lived through years of school, hours of mucking about on building sites, and hundreds of absurd games of football (all against all, three goals and in).

And that's not to mention the handful of really stand-out experiences, such as the day Paddy and his friends set fire to a rat, the occasion on which they shoplifted a handful of Womans Ways, the time they wedged a dead guinea pig in the letter box of an entirely innocent pensioner. Perhaps not enough raw material for War and Peace here, but easily enough for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

In his new novel, the Irish writer Roddy Doyle is a boy again. Paddy Clarke tells his story in the first person, presenting us with a world entirely circumscribed by the things 10-year-old boys are obsessed with - snot, scabs, the sticky stuff you wake up with in your eyes, Manchester United, etc. The three hugely popular books which Doyle set in Barrytown (The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van) all throng with adults who say the first words that come into their heads, so in some respects Paddy Clarke is business as usual. Then again, a 10-year-old carrying an entire novel? Doyle is by no means the first to attempt this, but even James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man only tried it on for one page.

Doyle has said that if you can surrender your disbelief that a child could sit down and write a 70,000-word book, then you'll be away. Actually, the text immediately gathers itself into a flow like speech, and it rarely occurs to you to think that someone sat down and wrote this out. Stranger still, for nearly 300 pages, this 10-year-old child goes on at you, non-stop, and yet at no point do you experience a desire to send the book out into the garden or upstairs to its bedroom; at no point are you itching to get it out from under your feet.

That is by no means kids' stuff. As a literary exercise, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is impeccably executed. What is remarkable is how rarely you sense the guiding hand, how infrequently Doyle shows his age - and it is particularly unfortunate that one of the occasions when he does is on the first page: 'Liam,' we're told, 'dirtied his trousers one day - the smell of it rushed at us like the blast of heat when an oven door was opened.' That 'rushed' jumps out a little, seems too precisely chosen to ring true here. Unlike nearly all of what follows.

The obvious idea is to keep the sentences short and sweet - the kind of things you might find in unjoined handwriting in an exercise book. 'He had the bike. He realised this. He gave it back. I got up. He held the back. He said nothing. I pedalled. We went down the garden.' But a whole book like this would grow rapidly numbing. So Doyle contrives to set different rhythms going by building longer sentences in which the syntax softly collapses and the words still sound like they might have dropped from a kid's lips. 'The building site kept changing, the fenced-in part of it where they kept the diggers and the bricks and the shed the builders sat in and drank tea.' True, under close analysis, Paddy probably has a preternaturally expanded vocabulary. But he returns to his own terms (things are invariably either 'brilliant' or 'stupid') enough for you to hear an authentic voice.

It must be said, girls don't get much of a look-in here because . . . well, they're girls. Paddy has two baby sisters, Catherine and Deirdre, but they're nothing more than household fixtures and Paddy mentions them in passing, in the way he might mention the gas stove or the water heater. We hear much more about the younger brother Sinbad, target of dead-legs and Chinese burns. Paddy flicks soap suds in his eyes, force-feeds him a fig roll, and shuts him in a large leather suitcase. You just can't have that kind of fun with babies.

Somewhat belatedly, Roddy Doyle is about to give up his day job. For the last 14 years, he has taught English and geography in north Dublin. Then again, if he had retired when sales of The Commitments went into orbit, perhaps we would never have met Paddy Clarke. Maybe only a teacher could have written this book: someone who takes children seriously for a living, someone who sees how they are when they aren't with their parents, watches them milling around in packs whose nervy community is caught by Doyle in the superb compression of: 'We heard something; Kevin did.'

It is common to pick up on Doyle for sentimentality, and to assert that his violence is normally only verbal, that the working-class families he envisages are too prone to smile adversity into submission. Paddy Clarke is not a book without dewy moments. Even the maligned Sinbad finally inspires a misty-eyed passage: 'When I asked myself why I hated him the only reason was that he was my little brother and that was all. Big brothers hated their little brothers. They had to. It was the rule. But they could like them as well. I liked Sinbad. I liked his size and his shape, the way his hair at the back went the wrong way.'

But a book about childhood which rigorously distanced itself from sentiment would be an eerie prospect. The fact is, while there is much here about the excitements of youth and the wonders of innocence, the book is also threaded through with unease. The kids play and slap each other around, and the parents work and slap each other around to the sickened bafflement of the children.

This is the gift of Paddy Clarke: it can dwell in detail on the smell of a hot water bottle, but, at the same time, it retains access to just how uncosy a boyhood can get. There is an extraordinary fight scene at one point, where Paddy doesn't receive the support he thought he could rely on, and an awful alienation hangs coldly in the air. 'No one had jumped in for me when Charles Leavy had been going to kill me; it took me a while to get used to that, to make it make sense. To make it alright. The quiet, the waiting. All of them looking. Kevin standing beside Sean Whelan. Looking.' Kids, eh?

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower