Book Review : Even In Paradise

That future strife/ May be prevented now, the king said in his moment of greatest clarity before he made the fatal mistake of confusing flattery with love.”

King Lear is probably one of my least favourite works by Shakespeare. It is also one which left a great impact. I was only a child when I was introduced to it via a children’s version. It wasn’t the best experience (because, you know, everyone dies) but I knew by the time I finished what sort of a daughter I did not want to be. When I saw Even In Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez on the library shelf, and read in the description that it was a modern day retelling of King Lear, I almost put it back. The cover and the Caribbean setting however, made me bring it home anyway.

EveninParadise-523x800

I really liked that twisty snake. And the colours on the cover are pretty pleasant too.

Peter Duckworth, though of English ancestry, is a complete Trinidadian. At the beginning of this book, he is preparing to move to Barbados, because he expects to find paradise there. It is here that we meet our narrator Émile, (the black son of Duckworth’s doctor, John Baxter), then 16,and our heroine, Corrine (Cordelia), a sprightly, confident, 12 year old. For Émile, it is love at first sight, and years later when he meets Corrine again, this time in Barbados, he finds that he still is attracted to her. Émile’s best friend Albert, has fallen in love with and is to be engaged to Glynis (Goneril), Corrine’s eldest sister. Her other sister, Rebecca (Regan), has  already eloped and married golden boy Douglas. It is at the engagement party when  the parallels to King Lear become relevant.  Duckworth, having decided to divide his property among his three daughters while still alive, is carried away by the flattery of his two eldest daughters. Feeling snubbed by Corrine however, he declares that she will receive her share of the property (the largest of all) only after his death. This declaration sets into motion a game of greed and jealousy.

The most striking thing about this book is the sense of place. Set in Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica, this retelling is interwoven with snippets of history and insights into the culture of these places. For someone like me, who has only a vague idea of the history and politics of these regions it was a fascinating read. I had to Google search some things to get into the details, but that was in no way distracting from the story. Nunez does an excellent job of discussing colonialism, slavery, race and class within the framework provided by the Duckworths and their rivalries. In fact, I found these insights more captivating than the story itself.

Émile is a capable narrator, though a bit wishy-washy as a character. I was a bit unimpressed by his hesitation to stand up for his convictions at times, and his occasional (though not often, thankfully!) tendency to mansplain.Glynis is predictably unlikeable. At one point Émile talks about how Glynis is “self-centered but not evil”, her actions are driven by her jealousy of Corrine and her unsatisfied need for her father’s love. However, I did not see this, and Glynis comes across as a purely negative character. Corrine, obviously, is the yang to Glynis’s yin. She is oh-so-perfect in every way, and this becomes a bit disappointing personally as I like my characters with shades of grey. None of the other characters made any real impression on me, personally.

The comparisions to King Lear are almost too close, but Nunez manages to reign this in, making it stand alone. In spite of its slightly flat characterization, the  book is a winner. It offers a peek into issues of race and class, but does not become a didactic or heavy. It retains a light, summery feel, making it an ideal beach read.

I borrowed this book from my local library and chose to review it without any request for the same on the part of the publisher/author.

Author Bio: http://www.akashicbooks.com/author/elizabeth-nunez/

Check out my bookstagram of this book !

Similar reads : This is the second retelling of Shakespeare I’ve read this year. The other one is Shylock is My Name , Howard Jacobson’s retelling of The Merchant of Venice.

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16 thoughts on “Book Review : Even In Paradise

  1. Mmmm, still sounds so goooood! I think it’ll be interesting to read this both because it just sounds like a really great book, and because I’ve never read or seen King Lear. I know generally what it’s about through cultural osmosis, but I have yet to experience the play itself. Might be interesting to read this book first and then read/watch King Lear, no?

    (This is like how I’m going to see Lady Ghostbusters before ever seeing OG Ghostbusters.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does have a happier ending than the play, so yes, I think reading this first would be better. Also, there are a lot of references to the play itself, so you won’t miss anything.

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  2. I certainly didn’t expect this book to be recommended as a beach read! hah

    It’s great that you discover new and interesting books by browsing your library shelves. I haven’t done that in ages. Every book I buy I research extensively. I don’t even have a library card any more 😦
    I love that you liked to your Instagram. That’s a great idea. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I need some Instagram followers, so it was a shameless plug 😁
      And I was surprised to find that the book could be a light read. Even though it has this background of colonialism and racism to deal with. It has it’s heavy moments, but everything wraps up so nicely that it left me feeling light and happy 😊 It’s a beach read for an intellectual 😉

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      • There are some things I wish were better. The characters for example. There is a gay character and we hear his back story but it is sort of left hanging. He is a minor character but still, you know…

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      • That he was in my opinion. He had a nice back story too. But I had a feeling he was there only so they could show how the homophobic characters would cooperate with him only so they could make money. I may not be as sensitive to these issues as a gay person would be, so I’m sorry if I missed something.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What a fascinating reworking of King Lear! I wasn’t much of a fan either I have to admit, and my memories of school where I had to read it are hazy at best. But good to hear not everyone dies in Nunez’ work 🙂 Eh I do love characters to be something distinctive, but you definitely got me hooked with the discussion of racism and colonialism and the setting! Intellectual beach reads ftw haha! 😀

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  4. I wasn’t expecting you to say that this was a light read, but that makes a Shakespeare re-telling more appealing to me.
    Don’t you love discovering new books at the library?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do. I love my library😊
      I have been reading a lot of serious books lately, and this one felt light in comparison 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have just never felt any attachment to Shakespeare. I mean, Laurence Fishburne as Othello got my heart beating harder, but know how messed up the ending is, and the lack of justice, always infuriated me. I think the only class I liked less in college than Shakespeare was Chaucer. Then again, it could have been the professors, and now I’m ruined for LIFE!

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    • 😂 I haven’t read much Chaucer, but the introduction to Shakespeare happened early in life. There are some of his works that I don’t like though, like Taming of the Shrew, for example.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The semester I had the Shakespeare class, I remember the teacher seemed overwhelmed, her kid was sick a lot, and we just didn’t seem to learn anything. When I was in high school, we would inevitably read Romeo and Juliet, each student being assigned a part, which we read aloud. In class. HUGE waste of time.

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  6. Shakespeare retellings are quite the fashion now aren’t they, with so many famous authors doing one each. I hated it as well (but for different reasons, school portions) but like you said, this sounds amazing. The only thing I know about Barbados is that the people from friends holiday there for a couple of episodes. Might have to grab this, although the cover isn’t appealing to me

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