Sometimes you have to hold up your hands as a reader and admit maybe you didn’t do a book justice. I found Paradise really difficult to follow. Mainly this is due to there being no central character. The central character instead is a town called Ruby where only blacks live and are free of white legislation and a nearby building known as the convent. The awfulness of men and magical prowess of women is its theme. Well not quite but the divisions drawn here are not between blacks and whites but between men and women. The men drawing their inspiration from the past, the women much more inclined to look forward.
I’d be interested to know how many characters there are in this novel. I would guess about a hundred and they all have significance which for me meant Morrison was asking too much of the reader. No doubt a novelist lives obsessively in the novel she’s writing. As a reader this isn’t the case. We have the rest of our life to get on with every day. If a character who has only had two lines reappears after a hundred pages it’s almost cruel to expect us to remember him or her. And yet if we don’t remember them here we are punished, shoved out of the narrative. To fully appreciate this novel I’d guess you’d have to read it in three sittings. Unfortunately I was only managing to read about twenty pages a day. On top of that I wasn’t really convinced by any of the characters.
At the beginning, a lynch party of men set out with guns and various other weapons to put an end to the reign of a few mysterious women living in the building outside the town. A witch hunt in other words. The men have managed to convince themselves these women are ungodly. The novel then goes backwards in time to document both the history of the small town of Ruby and the various women who have ended up at the convent. There’s some cleverness in the construction of this novel – I liked how it turns full circle which does create a lot of intrigue – but there’s also a good deal of clumsiness. For starters the characters aren’t particularly memorable with perhaps one or two exceptions. A lot of them, especially the men, seemed interchangeable. Neither is the prose as haunting and exalted as Morrison’s usual fare. So though I felt I didn’t do it justice I can still say with conviction it’s no Beloved. In fact it’s my least favourite of the Morrison novels I’ve read.