For the first time ever, I am writing the beginning of this review before I have finished the book. I am 169 pages into This Is Paradise by Will Eaves, and, so far, it’s not working for me. But the reason I am going to write this review in two parts is because from the outset, and indeed the opening pages, I really thought I would like this novel.
It is the story of a family, over several decades, and examines the relationships between them. I like stories about families, I like grand sweeping narratives, and examinations of relationships. Don and Emily Allden have four children: Liz, Clive, Lotte, and Benjamin. They are an average family, ‘but then ordinary is special too…
… as the Alldens will discover thirty years later when Emily falls ill and her children come home to say goodbye. Their unforgettable story is an intimate record of survival that is clear-eyed, funny and deeply moving.
So far, to me, they just seem ordinary. Clive is referred to as ‘special’, but the other three children seem like any other children their age. The youngest, Benjamin, seems to have the most depth of character, so I’m interested to see what happens with him. Same goes for Don and Emily, but for different reasons – Don is a father in the background, goading his children but not quite engaging; and Emily is a worrier, afraid of the new tumble dryer and reluctant to get a telephone installed (this is, I’m guessing, in the 1960s). The other thing is the passage of time. It clearly moves on from chapter to chapter, but there are only the vaguest hints as to when this story might be happening, like the family not yet having a phone. At one point Lotte listens to disco music with her boyfriend, and Benjamin is embarrassed that he likes it, so that must be the 1970s. Most of the time I just felt a bit lost.
Like I say, I am only about half way through this book. I might change my mind. Eaves and the Alldens might just surprise me. I’ll let you know.
Well, I’ve now finished This Is Paradise. I must say I liked the character of Benjamin, whom I was happy to spend time with. I also liked the idea of the novel, the intention and the sentiment. It is an excellently conceived novel; the problem came in the execution. To me it seemed like Eaves was a bit unsure about exactly how to make his novel as good as it could be – there is great potential here. Benjamin, for example, is a very well drawn character, with a history and a personality, nuances and opinions; but aside from Emily, he seemed to be the only character with a fully realised personality.
The first half of the novel, entitled ‘Bellevue’ after the road the family live on, is a potted history of their life. It is informative and entertaining, but with little depth. The second half, ‘Sunnybrook’, named for the nursing home to which Emily moves, was more intelligent and well developed, with a nice amount of gentle humour to lighten the mood. As the novel progressed, it got a lot better, with poignant reflections back on Emily’s life dotted throughout. Again it was Benjamin that caught my attention the most, trying to maintain his relationship with his ailing mother.
This Is Paradise is a genuinely good novel, but it did not move me. It was a little flat, and the family saga it told was a bit unremarkable, but the book had some genuinely good moments and characters, although I felt that Eaves put in so many characters that he didn’t know what to do with them all. Perhaps I was a bit spoilt by Wise Men! I would still recommend this book to anyone with a love of family sagas and sharp observations of everyday life.
This Is Paradise was published on 17th January 2013 by Picador. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review.