at 5am after a super-delayed flight kept me in the Las Vegas airport on the way back from this eighteenth-century studies conference, held at this "premiere all suite non gaming resort"--my word would have been "down-at-heel." It was a surprisingly relaxing trip, all told, and I am thankful to have done temporarily with the attractive-but-insane Maupertuis so that I can take care of everything else that's piled up in the meantime. I read a few novels while I was away: the new Elizabeth George (I don't know why I still read these, I sort of hate them but some nostalgia makes me pick them up and of course it's convenient for a long plane ride. An excessively long, humorless book); an OK crime novel by Marcos Villatoro called Home Killings; and a work of pure genius, A. L. Kennedy's Paradise. This is the one of the most beautifully written novels I've read for ages--each sentence is perfect, and the whole thing adds up to something unbelievably sad and bleak and moving. And often very funny, too. My favorite sequence in the novel begins with this set of paragraphs:
You are now approaching forty and have already spent far too long washing underwear in a theatre, stacking shelves, cleaning rental power tools--which are, I would mention, often returned in revolting states. You have slotted together grids of doubtful purpose, you have folded free knitting and/or sewing patterns into women's magazines, you have sorted potatoes (for three grotesque hours), you have telephoned telephone owners to tell them about their telephones and you have spent one extremely long weekend in a hotel conference suite, asking people what they found most pleasing about bags of crisps. Every prior experience proves it--there is no point to you.
At least at the end of the crisps job, I got to take some home. But selling cardboard was a godsend: flexible and satisfying in a way that involved no pressure at any stage, because--after all--what sane person could possibly care about who might be buying how many of which kind of box. The job actually managed to be more trivial than me, which seemed to produce this Zen glow across my better days and enabled me to lie my head off in a consistent, promotional manner with hardly a trace of nauseous side effects.
At the moment, though, there's nothing doing: not in cardboard. Nobody wants me any more and yet, for the usual reasons, I continue to want cash. So, on a sodden Tuesday lunchtime, I'm forced to admit I've been driven to make the drinker's most conventional mistake. I've started working in a bar.
The scene that follows is hilarious and also incredibly depressing. This is an exceptional novel.