A.L. Kennedy - Paradise (2004)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Alison Kennedy is the kind of writer who gets her contemporaries frothing at the mouth, struggling for ways to describe their admiration. Paradise is an excellent example of why, and a bruising, emotional experience. Kennedy is a master of internal monologue, and an expert at knowing where to put the rhythms and pauses in language. Here, she shows exactly what to leave in, what to take out, and how to bring the reader in close to her characters and the moment; a difficult and rare thing in even the best literature.
Many novels have been published about alcoholics, particularly in Scotland, but most have concentrated on men who run from responsibility and distract themselves with filthy thoughts about women they want but know they cannot possibly possess; not the way they would wish, anyway. Paradise is different. It takes the reader into the mind of Hannah Luckraft, a lonely nearly 40-year-old who thinks filthy things about sex, is also selfish and frustrating because of her constant and inevitable return to the bottle. But because she is so believably feminine, reading about her is refreshingly different, not simply a retracing of the same drunk male clichés.
There is a plot of sorts, but the story itself is not that important. Paradise is simply a book about the vain search for that perfect, still moment when everything makes sense and nothing hurts. Kennedy beautifully describes feelings, like longing for something you want but know you shouldn’t have; the need for physical contact above all else; the joy of feeling illicit liquid slip down your throat as you dive into another desperate night of drinking. It seems like whatever Hannah does is the natural thing at that time, as the reader is always made to empathise with her, no matter what. So, though during the book she gets involved with a married man, steals, lies and hurts the people she loves, it all seems perfectly understandable; because life is difficult, and hard to keep under control. And we can all understand that.
‘The most reliable measure of a person,’ says Hannah early on, ‘lies in what they do when they’re alone, when they have no need to pretend; are they firm when solitary, or do they slide?’ Paradise is 343 beautiful, painful pages of being alone with Hannah, watching her slide and slide and slide.
Further reading: Looking for the Possible Dance (1993) focuses on a woman’s relationships with her father and lover; Indelible Acts (2002) examines personal affairs in all their intricate glory.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.