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Paradise by A.L. Kennedy

A Serious, Solitary Introspection

I have yet to read the work of a modern writer that can capture the essence of outsider living quite like A.L. Kennedy. As an unofficial spokesperson for loners, she has exhibited literary genius once again with her new novel, Paradise. Here she delves into the life of alcoholism, exposing the troubles, grief and dependence that fuel the drive to imbibe.

The sentiments captured in this book do not suit plot development very well, but luckily Kennedy is an unproclaimed master of character development and highlights it as the central driving force of the novel. She presents her characters in a manner so truthful that the reader has little attention left to devote to any plot even if one existed. She gives more regard to the former convention and, as a refreshing departure from today's trashy fiction, Paradise exists without the modern convention of subplot and other masquerades of confusion.

Five years after bringing the Cyrano de Bergerac back from the dead, Kennedy's muse for this novel has her celebrating the disparaging qualities of solitude while painting the phenomena as a huge gaping wound in the life of principal character, Hannah. Her mechanism for exposing Hannah's wound is alcoholism, which blossoms into a sincere exploration of dependency. This dependency, fed with an internal rejection that cyclically pierces and heals those wounds, continually ignites depressive behaviors that fester in the lives of her family. Kennedy weaves the reader through Hannah's despair and hopelessness, and runs with her flaws, exacerbating its effects to destructive proportions.

As depressing as Hannah's story appears, at times Kennedy spreads a very faint sense of optimism over her situation, as if one day, instead of living within these fears, Hannah might choose to confront them. Hannah believes in her awareness. She recognizes the destructive behavior; if needed, she can even control it, but at times she is resolved to wallow in it. She believes her decision making process to be mindful and whatever may or may not come there are no tears for lost life or health.

Throughout the novel, Paradise retains a succinct poetic tone, and extremely tight use of diction. Kennedy's sentences seamlessly flow together to create discourse littered with a lexicon one can only describe as magical. The timeless subject matter and elegant style of the novel create a sense of universality -- what surfaces as alcoholism in this life could just as easily surface as xenophobia in another. If lifted out of context the prose would remain just as profound and meaningful.

Due to the intense introspective nature of the book, getting through the first fifteen or so pages may be difficult. However, Kennedy masterfully eases the reader into the meat. Readers secure with their solitary personas can stomach Kennedy in rain or shine, but those less comfortable should reserve readings for bright, sunny afternoons. Either way, take it slow -- you'll want to savor this book.

Paradise by A.L. Kennedy
Published: March 8, 2005
304 pages
ISBN: 1-4000-4364-6