Thursday, November 30, 2023

Dark Ideas in Another Place

This Other Eden
This Other Eden: 
a Novel 

“Other ideas still, though, were darker, underwater, or he underwater and they above the surface, clear and sharp and focused. He could hear them in his head, feel their weight in his chest and their shapes in his throat, but he was slow of tongue and they went unworded. He knew everyone had the same kind of ideas, but that his thoughts outdistanced his words sooner than with other people—even the words for what he meant when he thought about this hovered above the water—dark, familiar circling birds he could not name.”   ― Paul Harding, This Other Eden

This Other Eden tells the story of Apple Island as an imagined, somewhat simplistic, utopia and is skillfully written in a mellifluous and poetic style, giving it a complete personality of its own. While based on a real place and events, I do not consider it an historical novel but rather more speculative in nature. 

The book requires concentration and focus despite being brief (just over 200 pages), yet it covers multiple characters and time periods. There are references to eugenics that was a popular movement during the beginning of the twentieth century which were definitely upsetting, yet they were necessary to the story and to present the real temper of the times. The effect on the primary characters in these passages was devastating, but the narrative voice handled the main characters with kindness and respect. I was drawn into its setting and era and discovered that I was moved by an emotional connection to the people living on Apple Island. 

While I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to discerning readers, especially those interested in the social history of the period, mainly because it has such a deep concept, exquisite details, and lovely prose to appreciate. 


Kathy's Corner said...

Hi James, I was struck by this passage you quoted

"Other ideas still, though, were darker, underwater, or he underwater and they above the surface, clear and sharp and focused".

Wonderfully written. But I have stayed away in recent years from the books that get nominated or win the major lterary awards. I sense that many of these books are not straightforward narratives. The talked about literature right now seems to be heavy on fantasy, dystopia,time travel or plots I can't see happening in real life. But I am speculating. I should try a few of these Booker, Pulitzer, National Book Award nominees and winners to see what I am missing.

James said...

Hi Kathy,
Our local book group often selects literary award winners or those books that are "short-listed" for awards. Some have the issues to which you referred, but in this case the beauty of Harding's prose overcame any quirkiness in the narrative.