The novel is known for its interesting use of language – Doyle uses a register that gives the reader the vivid impression of listening to a ten-year-old Irish boy from the 1960s. The novel is not divided into chapters but into small scenes which do not follow any chronological order.
The plot structure of the novel is also unconventional, that of numerous vignettes. Despite the absence of a clear-cut plot (introduction, complication, climax, dénouement) one can still, with certain sensitivities in place, derive a perceptible passing of time as we witness, gradually, how Barrytown changes.
The novel, chronicling Paddy's internal journey towards maturity, is a bildungsroman as it centres around the main character's development. Paddy's growing up is painfully bitter. While the beginning of the book is filled with playful antics, the growing antagonism between his parents and the breaking up of their marriage are evident as the novel moves on. What makes Paddy's rite of passage, as it were, all the more tragic is the fact that he does not choose his "journey of enlightenment and maturity", rather, he is robbed of it when his parents become estranged from one another.