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As dull as a real drunk
on 15 March 2010
AL Kennedy's "Paradise" is hard going. The central character is Hannah, an alcoholic woman trapped in a spiral of self-justification and self-loathing, whose attempts to get out of the hole she is in are destined to be thwarted by her relationship with another alcoholic, Robert, a dentist. Kennedy invests Hannah with her considerable resources of wit - the author makes regular appearances as a stand-up at Edinburgh - but despite this she is not good company.
The circularity means that there is little in the way of plot (as opposed to incident). A period drying out comes to nothing; she loses her job; egged on by Robert she goes on a binge which brings hallucinations and annihilates her personality. Except it doesn't, because always there is this highly articulate first-person narrator talking into your ear. The process of getting drunk is a process of liquefaction, but Hannah remains always and inevitably razor-sharp. Although this does allow Kennedy to get a kind of dual perspective on the flawed narrator, cheerily insisting she's in great shape while wetting her knickers, this contradiction also invests the whole novel with a curious artificiality, as if the author is in it for the exhibitionist exercise.
How long can anyone take being buttonholed by a drunk, however intelligent and funny, in a bar? Personally I'd give it about half an hour, and certainly not 350 pages. Members of my book club felt the same - we gave it an average of 2 stars.