Paradise by A.L.Kennedy

This is one of those rare, precious times when I have read a book and been blown away by how simply perfect it is. Each word, each phrase, ah, just the right one. This is an author that I knew only by reputation, and now I will always read everything that she writes. What a writer!

So, the story. Well it’s about an alcoholic woman in her late 30’s. It follows her bumpy up and down path as she drinks too much, so much, that it makes her ill, and her family send her to dry out and recover. She has a relationship with a man who also has a drink problem, they find beauty in the glass, the bottle, each other, they also become engulfed in the dark vile side of alcoholism.
It’s more than that of course, it’s about life and disappointment and not fitting into the position the family have decided you should fill, it’s about the mundanity of the day to day grind, it’s about hope and need and the longing to escape from dull jobs. Never has a drink sounded more glorious than when described here, but there’s plenty of grim descriptions of truth.
It’s surprisingly humorous too, and the descriptions of everything from the weather and landscape to the shine of a bottle are spot on. She does dialogue incredibly well too, capturing the drunks slur and jerky speech. Somehow we maintain sympathy for Hannah, the main character, even when she turfs a disabled woman out of a wheelchair!
It’s a wonderful book, and I thoroughly recommend it. It is such a pleasure to discover a supremely skilled writer, I feel rather thrilled.
Here is an extract which showcases in my opinion the finest hungover lift description ever, and gives a wonderful flavour of the rest of the novel.

Which carries me past a last view of Wispy’s vaguely stricken offspring and off on a wavery march for the doorway, then out, a passageway (passageways lead to staircases and lifts, they are my friends), through a fire door and into a foyer complicated with several queues – not helpful – but, yes, here is a lift.
When I stop, the momentum of my thoughts sends them rushing forward, pressing and wetting the backs of my eyes. I raise my key to aid steadier inspection – it is attached by a chain to leaf number 536: fifth floor, then.
And, thankfully, no one else is with me when the doors whump shut and seal me in the queasily rising box. The surrounding walls are mirrored from waist height up which suggests an illusion of space and must be a comfort to claustrophobics, but which also – due to the laws of physics – does have one truly horrible consequence: I can see myself. Not only one’s self, naturally: from a few especially disastrous angles my right selves and my left selves reflect each other unrelentingly. On both sides, I can watch my head diminish along an undulating corridor of shrinking repetitions until I finally coalesce into one last, pinkish drop of light. This aches.
It isn’t fair. All I wanted to do was find 536 and take care of my head, but instead I’m trapped inside this 3-D memento mori – staring at eternity while it howls graphically away, before and after (as if I were an extra in some truly sadistic, educational short), and all that I’m fond of as me is cupped up in this single, staring instant – which isn’t enough. Look at me – this is the only point where I’m recognisable, where I make sense – beyond it, I’m nothing but distortion and then I completely disappear. What is this – a Jesuit lift? I am not at an appropriate moment to be metaphysical. For Christ’s sake, I was only trying to cut out the stairs. I didn’t ask to be forcibly reminded that I don’t want to die, not ever, no thank you very much. I am not well and terrified and I don’t have the room to be either properly.
So I am not in quite perfect condition when the lift shunts open and gives a gloating little ding. Meanwhile,my sweat gets a chance to chill in the passageway where small metal plaques with arrows are waiting for me, all set to suggest hypothetical directions.
543-589, this way: 502-527, that way; 518 over there.
I’m taking little runs to blind ends, finding corridors that loop round on themselves, cupboards, fire escapes, while the floor starts to pitch down quietly beneath my feet, as if I were aboard some ghastly submarine.
The world cannot be as this is, I refuse to accept it.
543-589 this way. But they were that way before.
I deny the existence of this hotel in its current form. I deny the existence of this hotel in its current form.
528, 529, 530 . . . which is encouraging, fairly, I should be okay, it can’t be far –
I deny the existence –
I’m not going to be sick.
I deny the existence of this hotel –
533, 534 –
in its current form.
I deny –
535 . . . 536.
Well, well.
Slowly. Approach it slowly, it may move. Don’t let the key chain rattle, make no sudden cries, but, as soon as I’m ready . . . hold the bloody handle, grab it, key in the lock, key in the lock, right in, in, okay. And.Turn.Turn everything.
The room agrees to be opened and it is, indeed, my room – here is my holdall on its floor, lolling open, and this is my own, my personal alarm clock, ticking primly by the raddled bed: the soft, the horizontal, the wanted bed.There is nothing better than being bewildered and unhappy and very tired and then discovering you have a bed.

2 thoughts on “Paradise by A.L.Kennedy”

  1. Hmm interesting. I’ve often wondered about AL but never got around to reading her books. Weirdly, she seems to be doing stand-up comedy too these days. No idea what it’s like.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s