There is a consistence sense of rootlessness and exploration in Edna O’Brien’s short story ‘Paradise’. Though I confess I have not read any of her other work before [this will soon change], in researching the piece, and from my own thoughts, ‘Paradise’ is a moment of transition for the writer – she takes herself from her native Irish setting and expands into a picturesque setting further afield.
Within the pages we find a woman – she is never named, though she is a strong protagonist in a world full of ‘beautiful people’. It is a place she never quite fits. This theme drives ‘Paradise’; the need to reach and obtain a life you only half occupy. There is her wealthy lover [who is very much married], whom she must convince of her propriety, and there are his friends too, who never quite know what to make of the unnamed woman. A continual plot [though I use the term loosely] is that she cannot swim – something everyone else is utterly perplexed by. Her lessons are both a reprieve and a challenge and are illustrated with care. It is her lover who has planned the lessons for her. If she learns to swim, perhaps she can win him.
O’Brien brings us both love – how to retain it, and a societal charade in which almost every supporting character is woefully empty and curious of the woman who doesn’t quite fit. It’s wonderfully written prose [erratic and lacking uniform] that reaches a climatic/near fatal ending, which I won’t give away – though if you put her sadness and her inability to swim together, you may find a piece of the puzzle.
‘Paradise’ is a story of insecurity in a world which will offer none of the opposite. The way in which O’Brien pens the piece – seemingly unconnected moments of this woman’s time in so called paradise – furthers the sense that nothing is truly linear nor is it connected, and that in the end, she is reaching for something that she will never grasp. It’s assured work, though you don’t need me to tell you that.
Paradise is published by Faber & Faber for more information about their Faber Stories and 90th Anniversary click here.
Edna O’Brien, DBE is an Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer. Philip Roth described her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English”, while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cited her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation”.
Reviewed by Emily Harrison
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