Paradais

Paradais is Fernanda Melchor’s second book to be translated into English (both by Sophie Hughes) and her second book to be long-listed for the International Booker Prize. Paradais is more compressed than Hurricane Season – not only shorter but also limited to single voice – but it contains the same intensity of language and focus on the darker side of desire where it borders and eventually becomes violence.

Paradias is a luxury housing complex, a gated community which seeks, and fails, to control what lies within its walls. The novel brings together Franco – porn-addicted, overweight, a misfit and loner – who lives there with his grandparents, and Polo who, having flunked school, works there as a gardener. Rather than friendship, they are united in unhappiness. Franco – or fatboy as Polo calls him – has developed an unhealthy obsession with a neighbour’s wife, Senora Marian, which he shares with Polo as they drink together:

“I’ll fuck her like this, he’d drawl, having clambered to his feet at the edge of the dock; I’ll fuck her like this and then I’ll flip her on all fours and I’ll bang her like this, and he’d wipe the drool from his mouth with the back of his hand and grin from ear to ear with those toothpaste ad teeth of his, white and straight and also clenched in rage as his gelatinous body wobbled in a crude pantomime of coitus…”

Polo’s main concern is escape: he hates the job (“he’d gladly never set foot inside that fucking development again”) which his mother has forced him to take, and resents the presence of his pregnant cousin, Zorayda, in his home. If Franco has deluded himself that Marian might reciprocate his feelings for her, no doubt influenced by the pornography that makes up his entire experience of sex, Polo has nothing but contempt for her. Like Franco, he views her personality through his own limited understanding of women, but he resents what he regards as her attempt to gain power over him through her looks:

“To be desired, lusted after, to put dirty thoughts into your head. You could tell she loved it…”

This is exacerbated by his position as an employee, as we see when she gives him a tip for staying late to tidy up after a party:

“Why the hell hadn’t he handed the envelope straight back and told her, with every ounce of disdain he could muster: I don’t need your handouts, thanks very much?”

Polo also views Zorayda with a mixture of hatred and desire, accusing her of trying to seduce him until eventually:

“Polo couldn’t contain his hatred for that bitch a second longer and he pushed her up against the back of the armchair, yanked down her hotpants and rammed his rock hard cock inside her while the little whore panted and slapped her hand on the back of the chair without a clue of what was going on.”

Polo’s anger at his powerlessness in his own life is directed at the women around him, his resentment particularly focused on any power they might have over him. Similarly, despite his privilege, Franco is equally powerless when it comes to the opposite sex (in direct contrast to the pornography on which his understanding of relationships is based). In this sense, the novel’s violent denouement is almost inevitable.

Melchor’s skill is in unleashing the misogynistic torrent of the narrative without compromise, and hijacking the language of pornography to her own ends. No female perspective is admitted – we learn nothing of Zorayda or Marian beyond what Polo or Franco tells us, though, of course, we can interpret it differently. (For example, it is hinted at that, far from sleeping around, Zorayda has only had sex with Polo making him the father of her child). We also get a glimpse of the only escape possible for Polo, one into a world of crime, which he begs his friend Milton to admit him to, even after the quite terrifying story Milton tells him of being forced to kill a man.

Paradais reads like a modernist crime novel, one where the reader cannot leave the consciousness of the criminal. This allows Melchor to display in all its horror the visceral hatred and sexual objectification of women. Few novels will be more uncomfortable this year, but her approach lends it an undeniable power. Hurricane Season made to the short list in 2020, and I suspect Paradais will do the same.

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3 Responses to “Paradais”

  1. International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist | 1streading's Blog Says:

    […] Paradais by Fernanda Melchor, translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions) […]

  2. JacquiWine Says:

    Too dark for me personally, Grant, but your assessment is almost certainly correct. I fully expect to see this on the shortlist once it’s announced.

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