Wednesday 4 July 2012

This is Paradise

This is Paradise by Will Eaves was recommended on Dove Grey Reader but I am not sure I paid enough attention to it, or maybe I read it in too small bedtime bursts to really appreciate the writing. 

It is the story of the Allden family, from the dangerous birth of baby Benjamin to the death of Emily and the quiet after the storm that her family manage to reach. It is all beautifully written, understated, but even though I identified quite closely watching the relationships between the siblings I felt somewhat detached and uninvolved with them. I didn't feel as if I really got to know anyone, there were too many perspective competing for attention. I am always quite drawn to stories of 'ordinary' families, because it's interesting to compare what you have experienced, both as a child and as a parent, with other people's ideas of what 'ordinary' is. 

Emily seemed a little devoid of personality, and the father, Don, was mostly downright unpleasant. Liz is the self-sufficient, reliable older daughter, Lotte the uninteresting middle one and Benjamin neatly fills the niche of baby-of-the-family. The only really interesting one is Clive, who seems to want all sorts of things he is unable to articulate. His interactions with the world are most peculiar as if it is all nonsensical to him and he just goes about his own life not expecting it to make sense. Here he goes to get a passport photograph taken at a machine that appears to be out of order:

"The machine gave a chemical grunt as four images arranged two by two dropped unexpectedly into the delivery tray. Clive took them quickly, deaf to the expostulations of Ted Pascoe and the walrus in uniform.
He had no quarrel with the photos' snowy brightness, no interest in their presentability at Customs. It was the element of make-believe he could not stand to see in them. The fists - anyone would notice - were raised too high, making it harder for the fighter to see his opponent, while inside the matchwood cage of his forearms an unprotected chest edged down into ribs as sharp and thin as the tines of a dinner fork. The hair lay upon there neck and wept.
Apart from that, things were shaping up nicely." (p.29-30)

And here he finally makes it to a dentist appointment:

"The following Saturday Clive caught the more reliable 113 to Mr Naish's practice and presented himself at reception. One of the spinning assistants asked him to go through: Jeremy wouldn't keep him waiting. After about half an hour, the dentist appeared, apologising. Clive listened in respectful silence, his head on one side. The he rose from the green chair and said brightly, 'I'm sorry, Mr Naish, but you're late. You can't treat me.' And walked out." (p.51)

The most interesting part of the book really is where they are sitting around at the nursing home in anticipation of their mother's death. When people have nothing much to do but have be around people with whom they don't usually spend much time it brings out all sorts of stuff:

" 'That's enough from you, bossy-boots,' he snapped, the childish reprimand a galvanising mishit. 'Who made you chief carer? Who appointed you?' An alarm went off in another part of the building. Voices called and laughed and buzzers buzzed. 'You. You fucking - ' The spare room rang with obscenities.
Liz appeared in the corridor and gazed along it, at Benjamin. They were mirror images, each standing trying to work out what to do. The miracle of it was that Lotte didn't run as soon as Clive started, and that neither Liz nor Benjamin felt able to intervene. The outstretched hand is helpless, Benjamin thought belatedly. The truth was that they were both afraid. Clive came at you in waves. They stood like passengers on a boat watching someone in the water." (p.234-5)

All in all it was an interesting read, but I think I have had a bit of trouble settling to things and was thinking more about my planned Orange reading. I have started and abandoned Charlotte Grey and Ordinary Thunderstorms in the last few weeks so at least I did get this one finished. So, somewhat ambivalent really, try it if you like that kind of thing.

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