Friday, 10 April 2009

Paradise - A.L. Kennedy

Read: March 2008

Hannah Luckraft never thought she would live to be thirty. Yet here she is, almost forty, still single, still not fully grown-up, still searching for her own happy ending, her paradise. And now she has found love at last in the guise of Robert, a dentist who seems to be her equal in every sense. But there is one problem: Hannah is rather partial to a drink every now and again. Now, and again in a few minutes time.

Why can’t all Chick Lit type premises end up like this? Dysfunctional, dark and utterly destructive. Paradise grabs your average book by the scruff of its neck, drags it through a trail of vomit buckets, wet beds and morning hangovers while you scream out begging for more. Self destructive like a pillow, it kisses and caresses you down into its seductive depths, and you cannot help but follow.

And all this praise from someone who Hannah would refer to as a “teetotalitarian.” Once I got over the shock of such incomprehensible alcoholism, it started to grow on me, slowly, seductively, almost beseeching me to have a drink. I am delighted to say I was thoroughly corrupted by this novel. Like her American counterpart A.M. Homes, Kennedy takes the supposed ‘good life,’ and, almost literally, kicks the sh*t out of it. Oh to be so harangued, to write such horrendously grizzly fiction, to be able to portray in a second the very essence of addiction. Stripped down, completely embodied prose. There are no fancy depictions of scenery or grandiose observations here. Everything happens in the immediate, it is all about the relationship between the mind and body, about the experience of living as an intelligent piece of meat and skin and bones and not feeling the fit quite works. It is all very immediate, you can feel the warm golden liquor gliding down Hannah’s throat, seeping into her blood, and making everything okay again.

A.L. Kennedy is a writer thoroughly without pretence, she is ruthless and unforgiving with her characters, but never judges or tries to influence perception of them. They act as themselves: in this case unfortunate alcoholic failures dreaming of love and normality but unable to cease their endless spiral of self destruction. And as you would expect from a part time stand-up comedienne Paradise is riddled with humour, little japes and outrageously funny mishaps, all told in a completely dead pan, straight faced voice.

Perhaps Paradise is a little structurally confusing. Shifts in time and place, along with parts where you are not sure if you are reading reality or drunken stupor, make it slightly confusing at times. But then a novel narrated in the first person by an alcoholic has no reason to make sense all the time. And that is why it is not a book to read in small chunks. It must be read in the same way that an alcoholic drinks: all out, nothing held back You must give yourself to Paradise like the first drink of the night, and it will envelop you with its pub smells of stale alcohol and urine and hopeful drunken dreams. Perhaps this doesn’t sound appealing, but believe me, it is. Intensely so.

It is just a shame about the opaque ending. After such an immediate and involving plot it seemed to peter out, unsure exactly what it wanted to say. Perhaps Hannah finally achieves what she has been searching for, that perfectly altered state, her very own personal paradise. But it is read through the eyes of a drunkard, and nothing is entirely certain by this stage.

is just what you need sometimes: a dose of nihilistic, corrupting, medicine. It was my first foray into the realms of A.L. Kennedy but now that I have a taste there is no doubt that I’ll be back again very soon. Addiction is a very good subject for so talented a writer.

7 out of 10

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