three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
By: 
A.L. Kennedy
user_rating: 
0

A-ParadiseHannah Luckraft is almost 40, single, and burdened with a dead-end job that keeps her from her true passion: getting drunk. Whether she’s trying to piece together the hazy events that led to her latest blackout or just struggling through the day, liquor is Hannah’s salve. For added instability she has her lover Robert, a shaky-handed dentist and collaborator in Hannah’s alcohol-fueled spiral. Though her family reaches out to save her, only Hannah and her bottle can traverse the route to her personal paradise.
Knopf. 288 pages. $25. ISBN: 1400043646

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"It is Hannah’s voice—wry, insightful, and often hilarious—that animates this astonishing book. … This is a wiser, braver, and sweeter work than we have yet seen—Kennedy’s greatest achievement to date." Jennifer Haigh

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It is no small task to create a realistic, sympathetic portrait of an addict. Kennedy steadfastly avoids the black and white, using subtle moral shadings to capture that which would feed, or starve, the addiction." Robin Vidimos

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"… Kennedy exposes the sad blend of hope, loneliness and lust that can bind one refugee from dreary everydayness to another. Sometimes the closest a woman can get to Paradise is a bottle of Bushmill’s and a little loving with a fellow alcoholic…" Maud Newton

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"You won’t ever read a book that describes alcohol so lovingly, that treats each level of intoxication with the respect due an old friend. Nor will you ever encounter more terrifying passages of alcohol withdrawal. You also won’t find finer prose than this anywhere in English." Richard Wallace

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Serious literature does not have to equal a dry, taxing reading experience. Quite the opposite. Paradise has what are considered the hallmarks of serious literature, or ‘literary fiction’: an intricate plot, terrific prose, universal themes, complex characters. And yet, though at times demanding, the novel is a thrill to read." Jean Charbonneau

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s difficult to understand how someone so intelligent could remain so blind, just as it is to accept that someone so capable of evoking her predicament could remain so powerless. Perhaps these paradoxes are the pathological essence of alcoholism, but in the end they make for a narrator who sorely strains a reader’s patience and credulity." Michael Mewshaw

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"The unfortunate pair grimly lurch their way through an unbearably degrading life in a narrative that’s almost impossible to read … the reader can only be grateful for the variety of Kennedy’s Verfremdungseffekt, those blessed Brechtian moments of alienation that allow the reader to draw back and remember that this is, after all, only a book." Carolyn See

Critical Summary

If there’s one point of consensus in reviews of Kennedy’s latest novel, it’s that she is a masterful stylist. The fork in the road for critics of Paradise, the British author’s fifth U.S. release, is the subject matter. Her supporters are impressed that the book avoids a tumble into bleak self-pity. Hannah is a perceptive, funny guide to her own dissolution. But the detractors—a distinct minority—see Hannah’s ability to express herself and her inability to solve her problems as a narrative failure. In the end, this seems less a criticism of the book than a judgment about its main character. Maybe Paradise hits too close to home, but, if the ayes have it, that’s simply a testament to Kennedy’s skill.