Like two other novels I know called Paradise,* this one by A L Kennedy [London: Vintage 2005] uses its title ironically. The life described is no Paradise on earth nor even any purifying purgatory. In the end, there is no way back. On the way to perdition there is love, humour, coruscating wit but these are all counterpoint to misery, failure and degradation. Curiously, the book that came to mind while reading Paradise was the Martin Amis novel Money. The common thread is not so much the booze but the quality of the language. Amis’s protagonist John Self can think as well as Martin Amis can write. In Paradise, the narrator Hannah Luckraft uses language as her medium even more than she does alcohol. Her similes are scintillating simulacra and her metaphors modify the metanarrative and make it an even better one. And you need that in order to make a sad, sad story bearable and meaningful.
I turned to this book following my recent personal discovery of A L Kennedy and I feel I have been rewarded. Novels are my personal form of time and space travel; taking me where I might otherwise never go. However, to be a well-rounded reader and a more empathetic person, there are places novelists need to take us. Alcoholism is one of these places. Kennedy captures at one point that frightening ability of the alcoholic to rationalise what they do.
Nobody is complete – we all need topping up. Alcohol can add a little but mainly it enlarges what’s already there. Environmental factors, traumas, levels of income and training, they can shape me: I can pick and choose what I borrow and what I assimilate. But, for the drinker, there are better possibilities than this. What I wait for are those beautiful, uncommon chances to truly search another human being and be truly searched by them, to shift shapes in each other’s company. Accents and laughs are superficial. Unsatisfying; they’re only where the process starts, as you sink down and grin through the meat of a different life. I’ve heard it said that drinkers are uncaring, that we don’t bond, but nothing could be more untrue. I can be closer to you – more of you – in an hour than any teetotaller would be if they kept you drugged and naked in their basement for a month: if they ate your brain.
Having discovered you late in life, and found you a wonderful writer, I shall be back, Alison; I shall be back.