I am a massive Will Eaves fan. I love the way Eaves puts a sentence together. I love the kindness at the heart of his writing, the wit, the lyricality, the gentle humour. All my Will Eaves books are heavily underlined. They are full of sentences and thoughts I want to return to and unpick further. This is Paradise is no exception. Published in 2012 it’s a kind of family saga, following the Alldens who live in suburban Bath. We meet them first when their four children are still living at home. The children flutter round the edges of their parents’ oftentimes complex marriage offering the reader insight into their father, Don and their mother, Emily. The family is noisy and chaotic -easily recognisable- but not without its fair share of problems. Don has a philanderer’s eye. Emily, a tendency towards martyring herself.
The novel is a game in two halves. In the second half the four Allden children are grown up, though troubled Clive, is still struggling to sever the links with home. They return to be with their mother in her final days. Emily is dying in a residential care facility. She has dementia and no longer recognises any of her family members. As they spend a few days around her bedside and come together for the funeral service both the cracks and the bonds in the Allden family begin to make their presence known. It is a very familiar story: a family revealing both their best and worst sides when placed under pressure. Eaves captures each small snapshot of Emily’s death with grace and searing honesty.
There are only a few sections of this novel which specifically focus on dementia. However, those that do are particularly well-written and really begin to interrogate issues around residential care. Much is made of the pressure the care staff are under. They’re understaffed, under-supported and under-trained. And yet, Eaves takes great pains to repeatedly show us how kind and compassionate they are in their dealings with both Emily and her grieving family. His portrait of a British care facility with its smells, its sounds and its ever-changing roster of residents is so accurately written I could picture every detail of Emily’s experience. I also felt Eaves does a wonderful job of recording the nuanced reactions of each family member: they all respond differently to Emily’s illness and subsequent death. From her husband who infantilises her and finds a new girlfriend while she’s still alive, to her brother who continually tries to draw attention back to himself, to Clive whose grief is bottomless and Liz, who brings her own nursing experience to the table and is consequently quite pragmatic in the way she deals with her mother’s condition. These are believable portraits of real people reacting within the spectrum of their own emotional capability. As with all of Eaves’ writing, the characterisation is nuanced, realistic and beautifully developed. I could’ve read another 300 pages quite easily.
This is Paradise was published by Picador in 2012