Crowded, crazy and confusing, this book and its inhabitants are initially rather hard to like. Pages of documentary style dialogue, disjointed, rambling and awkward sentences hurriedly hurled about make for a rough read. However around the halfway mark I realised I could manage to carry on with it all without too much struggle and I found the stark, complete honesty of 'This is Paradise' growing on me.
The idea of eavesdropping on this large family may be intriguing as a choice. They live without thought for observers anyway, with Martyr Mother Emily as the centre, the story constantly time shifting, place shifting, backwards and forwards. There is a unexpected depth to each member that sets off sparks of recognition, however rueful and faintly embarrassing. Family dynamics, arguments, scenes, harsh works, naked nastiness does occur and the author seems to know it's shape rather too well.
A trip to France is experienced as if we are in the car, the tent, and holiday house. You can smell the sweat, the unwashed body of Clive who, without any correction, calls his mother `Beast' and crashes about, a result of childhood, birth, damage, rude and troubled, all exhausting and unrewarding. His sister Liz is a smoother ride; she is already grown up working in a restaurant but doesn't seem to help much around the place. Her love affairs are perhaps typical of today, consternation to her mother who swings from axis to axis, alternately lecturing about birth control while also longing madly for more babies around.
Little Lotte scratches the day away pitifully, Benjamin, the aptly named last child is also a sorry case, squashed beneath the cruel and dominating difficulties of Clive. The violence in this book is sickening, even if recoverable from. `Tizzys' are encouraged, arguments ignited oddly by the fatuous father - unexplained incidents pop up - Dad Don being attacked in own home by a stranger, a neighbour who says she is dying - of terminal boredom or something real? Being set just post War the atmosphere is fiercely frugal, narrower, less colourful than today. The same feelings exist though, jealousies, domestic heroism, patience and the trying of it...
As an example of unfettered parenting by people who are themselves damaged, it is an object lesson in the need for restraint and calm thinking. Later it is intriguing to see the results and they are, as often in real life, more successful, kind and fruitful than you would expect. Even the worst case of them all can be redeemed, after the influence of Emily is removed, by good sense and acceptance of reality.
This reminded me a long ago read The Pumpkin Eater (New York Review Books Classics), which also centred on a woman determined to go on giving birth despite all difficulties. Also The Fifth Child (Paladin Books).
on 25 April 2013
This book was recommended by an author I admire and so I was expecting it to be better than it actually was. It is a family story but the closest it gets to paradise is a hornet infested holiday house in south west France where they allow the hornets to continue to occupy the main bedroom throughout their stay without doing anything about it. That is just one of the many frustrations I felt about the characters in this book. Admittedly it is well written, much of the text consists of dialogue between the characters but some of them are so annoying that it gets in the way of reading enjoyment.
One of the sons of the family, Clive was brain damaged at birth but still appears to have retained a great deal of intelligence which he uses liberally in the form of brutal put downs and thunderous anger aimed at his parents and siblings. Emily, the mother is an ineffectual peacekeeper who later in the book suffers from dementia but whilst a lot of time is devoted to her death, (there is a very lengthy death bed scene) the book does not provide much of a chronology of her decent into dementia, which is often the most frightening time for dementia sufferers and their relatives and could have been explored in much more detail by the author.
The first half of the book is better than the second half but my overall impression is that the book could have been much better.
I really couldn't see anything paradisical about this book at all. The family seems to be completely dysfunctional and not "ordinary" at all as according to the cover blurb.
Emily and Don seem to spend a lot of their marriage avoiding issues and generally irritating eachother, but stay married because - well, why?
Ostensibly this is the tale of an ordinary family with four children who are all different and have to gradually make their way in the world. There is a hiatus and then they come together again when Emily is suffering her final illness.
There are a couple of joyous events, but for the most part the children seem to be full of anxiety and end up with a lot of hang-ups they don't talk about just like their parents.
Clive seemed to me to be autistic after reading the first few chapters, but then I couldn't understand why he'd never been assessed or why his parents did nothing (nor ever discussed) his alarming behaviour.
Benjamin is a sensitive child who, it is later revealed, is gay. He has one short relationship in his life and then seems to be doomed to spend the rest of it alone. Worrying.
The girls are a little less well described, but they both end up somewhat distracted and seemingly unable to cope with their parents and siblings. It says that Liz really loved her mother, but there's very little sign of it apart from casual presents; usually they snipe at eachother.
It doesn't help that the style is very post-modern, almost deconstructed, though it is as if the author didn't have the courage to go the whole hog. Some of it, including the ending, is rather confusing. I sort of enjoyed the story yet wished they didn't all get on eachother's nerves so much and weren't so, well, dysfunctional
on 21 August 2012
I chose this book on a recommendation of someone at work.
It was not a straight-forward read but it was refreshing to be challenged by writing and i found the story developed gradually, much like the illness of the mother. Bit by bit the family are revealed as individuals. While some reviews complain about them, i liked them. They are like any other family, full of love, regret, anger and moments of infuriating behaviour.
The book is a good read, a family's story through moments both good and bad just as it is in the real world.
An intriguing story of an ordinary family. Emily, a special needs teacher, and Don, who is a picture framer, are moderately happy in a moderately pleasant home on the outskirts of Bath where they bring up their four children in a moderately capable fashion. Liz, the eldest, is confident and pragmatic, Clive, mercurial and damaged, Lotte, nervous and shy, and Benjamin is the late arrival.
There are no terrible traumas, horrific events or violent feuds. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes. It is as if you are looking through a photo album containing snapshots of family events taken over the course of several decades, with various family members coming to sit beside you to share their experience of an occasion which had a particular significance for them - the acquisition of a spin drier, a holiday in France, a child setting off for university. Thus the intricacies of family life are exposed, the strengths and flaws, the joys, hurts, rejections, loneliness, affection, differences and acceptance. As the children grow up and leave home their comings and goings and their parents' reminiscences continue to weave a complex and fascinating pattern. Eventually the family comes together again when Emily is dying in a care home, her mind fragmented by dementia.
Although this book is utterly compelling, you will not want to gobble it up in one sitting. It is so beautifully written that you will want to savour each sentence. The events may seem prosaic, but they are exquisitely portrayed and the characters developed with an honesty that is both unflinching and tender so that you will be amused and irritated by turn, but ultimately your heart will ache for them. Definitely a book to keep and reread, but also to share - simply so you can have the pleasure of discussing it with someone.
From the description, I was expecting to enjoy this book (big fan of family dysfunction, psychological drama and the like) but I'm afraid I didn't take to it at all. I found the characters unappealing and unengaging, and I found it difficult to follow, nor did I care enough about the story to wish to do so.
Can't recommend this at all, I'm afraid.
I ordered this book from Amazon Vine because I normally love books about everyday family dynamics. But this family is anything but everyday. Every member is decidedly loony tunes. And then there's the hideous writing style: bare, bland, and brutal. The plot itself skips backwards and forwards with manic indifference. It's set in Bath, is it? You would never know it. The author is hopeless at scene setting. He seems intent on keeping the reader distanced from the characters and their actions. I finished the book with nothing but a feeling of relief.
A curate's egg of a book - good in parts. The children come across really well, as does the relationship between the girls and their mum, and the descriptions are good, but overall I got irritated in the early part trying to work out who was who. I didn't find any of the characters particularly appealing, the philandering father was selfish, the mother, eventually, was pitiful (won't say why as don't want to give away too much), although I did find Ben a favourite by the end. A good holiday read if you enjoy detailed observations of behaviour but not engaging enough to be particularly memorable.
This is a novel about a family -the Alldens - who live in a less-posh part of Bath. Don and Emily are the parents, Liz, Lotte,Benjamin and "Special" Clive are their children. Everyone goes to enormous lengths to avoid upsetting Clive, whose rages are legendary amongst the family. He is widely held to be gifted, but the reader gets the impression quite early on that he may, in fact, be subject to some form of mental illness.
The story jumps between time at the start, harking back to a difficult time for the family when Emily's life was in jeopardy whilst pregnant with her fourth child, Benjamin, but then moves forward in time to a time when Benjamin is a child rather than a baby. It never really seems to keep to a logical sequence, honing on significant events like family holidays, application to University, engagements and so on.
The final action is devoted to the time when Emily at an unspecified age, is suffering from Dementia and Don is increasingly finding it difficult to cope. It details their search for a suitable nursing home, acceptable to all the family. It then moves to Emily's lingering death and the gathering of the children at her bedside and ends a year on as they scatter her ashes.
I have to confess that this was not really the ideal novel for me. I quite enjoyed the all too familiar interactions of family life, but I felt the lack of sequence and I wanted to know more of the grown up children, their lives, careers and families. I also found the end section dragged. It is well written, however, and lovers of this type of genre may well find it irresistible but unfortunately it was not for me.
Set in the genteel environs of leafy Bath in south western England, This is Paradise is something of a slow burner which, for me at least, never quite catches fire. Author Will Eaves writes with style and clarity but the story of the Allden family meanders through the pages and I often found my attention wandering away onto other mundane matters before I realised I wasn't paying attention to the story. My partner-female-however, did enjoy the book so perhaps I'm not really a member of the author's target audience?