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The focus of Doyle's story is a fairly unremarkable housewife in contemporary Dublin who has the unexciting name of Paula Spencer. On the surface, Paula's not a terribly interesting person. She lives in an ordinary neighborhood, has a nostalgic regard for her childhood, and does the same normal things that thousands of other women her age do. You probably know her, or someone quite like her. As we learn more about Paula, as the layers get pulled back, we begin to see that there is more going on in her life than we initially suspected. And, yet, nothing that we learn, by itself, is especially shocking given the world that we live in today. Alcoholism, spousal abuse, and violence are unfortunately a part of life, so it's not the inclusion of those elements that lifts this book out of the ordinary. Where the book succeeds is in painting a shockingly realistic portrayal of a relatively unassuming wife who has gotten herself trapped in a violent and abusive relationship.
We begin the book by seeing her the way she is seen by the people in her life who don't want to know what her real problems are. But the author doesn't let us stay on the surface for long. As we delve deeper and deeper into this woman's mind, the things we learn become more and more unsettling. Nothing is brought out merely for shock value, and nothing is brought out just for show. The reactions and attitudes of the woman are utterly and painfully real, while the actions themselves are explored in a deep and unsettling manner. They way that Paula tries to cope with her situation is disturbingly realistic, allowing Doyle to really get to the heart of matters. Paula's mindset is held up to the light for the audience to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. The book is a powerful character study.
What keeps people in abusive and destructive relationships is something that is oftentimes a complete mystery to outsiders. THE WOMAN WHO WALKED INTO DOORS tells this story from deep in the point of view of the victim. The title of this book is, of course, a euphamism. It's what Paula and thousands of women like her say to their friends to cover their black-eyes and bloodied, broken noses. But it's telling in another way; Paula walks into the door, rather than through it, being unable escape the cycle of violence. This book won't preach at you, but it may help you to understand exactly what is going through the head of a woman who keeps getting hit, but never seems to leave. It's not a non-stop downer though, as Paula's narrative voice can be quite amusing at places. However, it's her story that you'll remember long after reading this book, not the (admittedly funny) asides that she often makes.