Paradise Rot – Novel Review

Paradise Rot – Jenny Hval – Verso Books, 2018.

Review by Alex Nuttle.

            Jenny Hval, an Avant-garde singer-songwriter from Norway recently had the English translation of her debut novel Paradise Rot (Perlebryggeriet in the original Norwegian) published by Verso books. Paradise Rot is the first fiction novel Verso has ever published, and it is a worthy addition to their vast catalog of books.

            Paradise Rot follows the story of Jo, a college student who has moved from Norway to Australia for her studies, as she navigates a foreign country and falls in love with her roommate. The themes throughout this book interrogate the realization of one’s own queerness, what it is like to be new and alone in an unknown place, and what happens when falling in love with someone while the queerness, loneness, and experiences in a new country collide. Jo must wrestle with all of these throughout the novel, and they interact and combine to create tense situations that feel strikingly real. Hval also uses excellent prose to paint vivid scenes of the landscapes and feelings that Jo faces, which only adds to the striking reality of the novel.

            While the themes and prose of Paradise Rot are engaging, the plot itself is less strong. While the plot kept me interested and wanting to read more, the story comes to a somewhat anti-climatic end. Hval spent a lot of time exploring the buildup to this relationship, but spends little time exploring the relationship in a proper context (with a decent amount of time spent in an odd ‘situationship’ period), and spends even less time exploring events post-relationship. There is a reality of relationships working as they do in this novel, but this plot does not live up to that reality in the way it should, especially when considering so many of the scenes throughout the novel feel real as mentioned earlier. It’s possible that there is something missing from Hval’s native Norwegian that would have better fleshed out this plot, but it is hard to say considering this is a review of only the English translation.

            Do not let my critiques of the plot deter you from reading this novel though. Paradise Rot is worth reading on the prose and the exploration of themes alone, and it is worth discussing in comparison to other literature that explores romance, especially for how it approaches the struggles of queer romance. Queer romance is often ignored in literature, and while this may not become canonical queer literature, it can certainly help people feel less lonely in a word where queer love and art is so often ignored.

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