This Other Eden by Paul Harding - review by John Self

John Self

Forbidden Fruitopia

This Other Eden

By

Hutchinson Heinemann 224pp £16.99
 

It’s no surprise that Paul Harding’s third novel has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It ticks several Booker boxes: it contains a story not only set in the past but also based on historical fact; it wallows in its literary credentials, from the title on down; and the plot takes a back seat to the lyrical prose. (Like half the shortlisted books this year, it also happens to be written by a man called Paul.)

When John of Gaunt in Richard II spoke of ‘this other Eden’ he was eulogising England, but for Harding, a New Yorker, the term refers to an American paradise. The setting is Apple Island, inspired by Malaga Island off the coast of Maine; as in real life, the island has become an enclave for mixed-race families and the reader drops in to observe them in the early years of the last century.

It’s a textured, vibrant and sometimes eccentric community. We are introduced to Theophilus and Candace Lark, a husband and wife believed also to be brother and sister; sisters Iris and Violet McDermott, the latter with a gap between her teeth ‘through which she could launch a jet of tea

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