Paula Spencer is a 39-year-old working-class woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem. Paula recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her feeling powerless.
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Paula O'Leary is hugely popular with the boys from her working-class Dublin neighbourhood. But it is the charming Charlo Spencer who finally gets her. Yet after their honeymoon, everything changes. When Charlo first strikes her, she is stunned. But as his violent outbursts develop from slaps and bruises to broken fingers and knocked-out teeth, she gradually loses all self-respect, denying how bleak things are and drinking heavily.
Paula Spencer begins on the eve of Paula's 48th birthday. She hasn't had a drink for four months and five days. Her youngest children, Jack and Leanne, are still living with her. They're grand kids, but she worries about Leanne.