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My good friend Malcolm B. made a video during the launch of The Disestablishment of Paradise at Unity Books in Wellington. During the short video, I am seen reading some bits from the book and I talk about the experience of writing it.

I am delighted by the video – though it makes my voice sound higher than I expected, (the result of nerves possibly) – and it is a  timely corrective to the 48 years old image of myself that is used on the banner for this website. When I first saw the video, I was struck by  the difference between the image of the older man reading, and the more youthful inner-self I feel when I am writing. Both realities are true in their own way.

You can view the video be going to www.youtube.com/embed/lcrF1-C8r54 I shall be interested to know what you think of it.

And now, while I am still delighted at the reception that the D of P has received, and I have replied to many questions and comments sent to me regarding the ideas in the book, I am now into writing a new work: one which seems to be quite different both from the D of P and all my previous novels. For one thing it is quite comic in a dark sort of way, and that I find encouraging.

In the new year, Gollancz will be publishing a collection of my short stories and a book for children called The Paradise Mission.  This latter, as you may have guessed, uses some of the strange creatures we meet in The Disestablishment of Paradise but in a narrative more suitable for younger readers. Both these will be available in E format only.

I would love to re-publish my earlier titles in book format, but publishing seems to be going through a strange evolution at present, and no one can predict the outcome. Still, we live in hope.

Christmas will be upon us in two weeks, and so I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and New Year, accompanied by Peace on Earth.

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A fellow writer has sent me more probing questions about The Disestablishment of Paradise. It is interesting how deeply people have peered into the novel, and how difficult it is for me to respond to some of the questions. While I am, delighted at the positive response to the book, I have to admit that I do not have all the answers. And that perhaps is as it should be. One of the main reasons for writing is surely to frame the right questions which then can be a focus for discussion.

Here than are the questions.

1. Is it a reading of Paradise Lost?

I never thought of that when I was writing the book. Truly. I suppose the book can be read that way, as Earth is now excluded from the planet Paradise… BUT one must not think of it as a reworking of the Bible story. That would be totally misleading and would not finally make sense. I have just checked in my concordance to the Bible and I find that Paradise is only mentioned three times, and never occurs in the Old Testament. Suffice to say, there is no secret code in the book.  In the bible story and in Milton, the expulsion of Adam and Eve is for disobedience of God’s wishes. In the  D. of Paradise there is no God lurking in the back-ground.  It is the humans’ own innate ignorance and cruelty that rebounds back on them. There is no  serpent either. The God of the bible story strikes me as being grossly anti-female, while the planet Paradise is strangely pro-female. I detest the ‘jealous’ god of the old testament – while I know that jealous meant something like ‘zealous’ when it was first used, it is still a barbaric and cruel act he performed. Not one to be emulated. José Saramago’s final novel Cain expresses this very well…. but the D of Paradise is not concerned with this at all.

From a human point of view, Paradise was innocent… though I do not like using a word such as that because in a dualistic way it implies the possibility of guilt. I did not think in terms of guilt or innocent when I was writing the book. All I knew was that Paradise was different and had a different morality and different senses to the ones we are used to. It is Pietr Z, remember, who says that the Dendron of Paradise never came up with clever ideas like defending themselves. They could not even conceive of the idea. “Poor dumb buggers” see page  139. From Paradise’s point of view, the planet was simply getting on with living when the humans arrived. And, remember, the planet Paradise was linked vis the Michelangelo-Reapers to the wider galaxy on a level which we might describe as consciousness. See chapter 35. The planet was profoundly aware, but its values were different. Concepts such as jealousy, cruelty and death even – to name but three – were simply not present. The problem I have is that I only have human language and knowledge with which to describe the alien. It is quite a strange feeling when one can can be aware of so much that remains out of reach, and sense, as it were, the limits of one’s own mind. 
Which things said, I must say I love reading Milton. He was a strange fellow, a bit like Yahweh in the treatment of his daughters, but his command of language was wonderful. Suffice to say, I had no specific religious ideas in mind when I wrote the novel: but then again, there is such a thing as resonance, and that can be very enriching.
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2. I’m interested in the moral bankruptcy of the organisations and authorities e.g. MINADEC. Do you see this scenario as a natural progression of humans continuing on the present path in relation to the natural environment?
Yes. We are digging our own grave. The earth has experienced 6 main extinctions in the past and we are simply accelerating another extinction. The pursuit of power and financial wealth and the ethic of ruthless competition and the willing acceptance of inequality are all mental states which stimulate this acceleration  Some years ago I read the works of Ernst Schumacher which impressed me deeply, especially Small is Beautiful. To create a sustainable economic future we must adopt economic policies which do not degrade Nature and we much eradicate economic inequality. At the deepest level, we are one people and so lucky to have this lovely planet Earth to call home.
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3. You have said that this is a book about nature. Do you see nature ultimately expelling exploitative humans as it does on Paradise?
Yes, but not in a punitive way. Changes in Nature are as unavoidable as gravity. It is the pace of change which will undo us. The book to read to understand all this is Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs (Pantheon book – Random House). However, that is not necessarily the end of the human story as I think consciousness extends beyond life. Hence Hera is always in contact with Paradise though she can not return. Human consciousness is a much larger issue and one which can not easily be debated as we know so little about it. I find the ideas developed in Rupert Sheldrake’s book The Science Delusion very persuasive. The Nature – note the N – which I celebrate is our means of regeneration and understanding, of identification and awareness. All you have to do is open your eyes and mind, dig in a garden, plant seeds, walk by the sea, watch the birds etc. to begin to see all that. And get yourself a microscope.

4. Mack is Australian. Were you thinking about the complex relationship settler Australians have with the land? Does Mack make the ultimate gesture of reconciliation? No, I made him Australian because I rather admire the pioneer spirit which I experienced when I was in Australia, even though I may not like some of the pioneers’ practices. When I was in Australia some years ago I went to Kalgoorlie. By chance I met up with a fellow whose idea of a holiday was to walk into the outback with just a blanket and a swag on his back. He had a deep respect for the aborigines. Talking to him was amazing. He was totally at his ease: very resourceful, knew how to survive, knew what to avoid and with a ready wit. I think Mac owes something to him. However, I also studied dowsing when I was young and am a handy-man by nature, and I had a mother who was forever quoting odd verses of poetry so there is a bit of me in there too. There is also something  very primitive about Mac. He would be at home with my ancestors, the Neanderthals. I also think he has something of the ancient protectors akin to Hercules though this parallel should not be pushed too far.

I am not sure what you mean by ‘the ultimate gesture of reconciliation.’ Mack rejoices in his fate in becoming a Mackelangelo or a Mack the Reaper as he says,  just as he rejoices in his love for Hera. 

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5. The indigenous species of Paradise don’t have a voice but they do have a collective will, physical potency and seem to operate as a collective consciousness. Was this a particular challenge and are you interested in the psychology of the human relationship with nature? I should explain, though I left the following slightly vague in the novel as the Planet has many mysteries. There is only one life form on Paradise, but it has many different physical manifestations Tattersall Weeds, Dendron, ‘Talking’ Jenny etc. It does not have what you might call a ‘will’ but it has sensibilities and can evolve. Also, on Paradise, thought can be considered as akin to a living thing, thus new creatures are always coming into being. Paradise also has an immense psychosphere which inspires love and desire in some humans i.e. in those who are susceptible.  But Paradise in its turn is susceptible to the darker emotions of humanity against which it has no defence and hence the planet ends up at war with its self. At the risk of being obscure, I would say that Paradise does not know duality – until the humans arrive.

Who will win in the end? I do not know. Paradise may never be the innocent place it once was, and that is very sad because the strength of Paradise spread outwards, invigorating the whole of space. Perhaps it invigorated Earth. Then again, a fight back is taking place. Much has already been saved. The Dendrons are alive! Powerful and creative warriors such as Mack and Sasha are engaged in the rescue. Given time, Paradise might sort its self out and open up again.

One point which I do not bring out forcibly in the book is that truth is one of the ways in which Paradise can be helped. The truth as revealed by Hera Melhuish about what happened on Paradise is now out. The good wishes of humans in response to Hera and Olivia’s book can be seen as potent forces for the good of Paradise. In the back of my mind is the idea that all consciousness is linked, and since evil has a tendency to self-destruct (given time) the prospects are quite good. Yes. On balance I think Paradise will heal itself
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6. You explore the emigrant experience. Do you think this will be more of a challenge in the future as fewer humans inherit the sense of place that comes from generations of connection to the land?
As soon as we have a genuinely holistic view of the world we live on, we will be able to tolerate differences in a celebratory way without any need to conquer or  suppress or deny. At that time, no languages will be allowed to vanish. The wealth of the world will be shared…. and I could go on. Then, as the bible so succinctly puts it, ‘the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.’ This may seem idealistic, but in some ways cooperation is already being forced upon us. Years ago I read a powerful phrase though where I read it I can not remember – It said, “Nothing is more cruel than a god just before it dies: it wants to take everything down with it.” It is not the god of the bible at issue here, but the gods of Materialism and Bigotry, self-interest and Fanaticism. I sometimes feel that we are at the darkest hour, right now – though do note that I am not a pessimist. When you reach the bottom, the only way is up. I am delighted to say that most people I have spoken to have left the book feeling uplifted rather than cast down – and that is how it should be. It is a nice paradox that the seemingly tragic can actually be uplifting.
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7. Hera shares her name with the sister/wife of Zeus. Does she share some of her namesake’s characteristics? Is the Paradise plum a reference to the mythical pomegranate?
That is a nice thought, and I can see how it can be carried further but no, I did not develop the significance of her name in a deep way. Hera – (the Goddess) is of the Earth, and delights in love and sex and in furthering life. Hera has some of these attributes or discovers them in herself. However I chose the name intuitively and was not thinking of the attributes of the Goddess when I called her Hera. That is how the mind works is it not? Hera’s surname Melhuish too has significance as it is a Devon name and is linked to the idea of good land or land being fertile. The Paradise Plum had nothing intentional to do with the Pomegranate or the fruit which Eve nibbled. Both the pomegranate and the plum are a symbol of fecundity. Significant is that the plum in the D of Paradise is one of the seats of consciousness. Prof. Shapiro knows this and is addicted to the dreams that the plum gives him. But were he to die on Paradise, it would reject him. He knows this and it is why he says “Take me back to England etc” You can compare Shapiro with (say) Pietr Z or with Mac to understand those qualities which allow Paradise to offer its-self unreservedly.
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I’ve tried to think of questions that haven’t been covered elsewhere. Feel free to answer as many or few as you wish and also to add any you’d particularly like to talk about.
 
I hope I have answered somewhat your questions. The important thing to know is that most of the book was not planned. Lack of planning means that the intuition rather than the intellect can come into play – and that is very important to me: not that I deride the intellect, far from it, but its function in the making of a novel comes later. I might also add that sometimes it is necessary to live with contradiction.
And this is now an end. I shall not be answering more questions. Let the book stand or fall on its own. As for me…, well, we began with Milton so we might as well end with him too. Like the ‘uncouth swain’ in Lycidas, I shall now seek out ‘fresh woods, and pastures new.’ I call my next book, The Head Man.

 

In Memoriam

   

Sunset and Dawn. Which is which?

As ever I am grateful to Wikipedia for these images.

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Three of my friends died recently. I am caught between my own sadness – for the loss of a friend leaves a big hole  – but also a sense of dis-belief that all that energy and laughter and knowledge could have somehow ended, or now lives on only in memory. That, I can’t finally believe – and without getting into some debate between believers and non-believers in life after death – I hope that something of my friends, some quintessence perhaps, lives on in another dimension.

I read a poem for one of them, Tom, at his funeral – the other funerals I could not attend – and I would like to publish it here simply In Memoriam.  Tom was a dedicated actor and took the lead role of the priest, Urbain Grandier, in a production of  John Whiting’s play The Devils which I directed in 2008.

In the Wings

A poem for the cast and crew of The Devils performed at Stagecraft Theatre May 2008.

In every production there comes a time,

when the SM says, “They’re letting them in.”

and the lights in the wings go out.

*

Now, the humble workshop,

where the props were made –

the bed, the chair… the torture box…

and the secret place where the nuns

keep their tables and candles –

all, all are transformed, and

our world in the wings

is now a moon-lit woodland,

with paths and dark corners…

mysterious.

*

Darkness constrains us,

speech becomes whispers,

and laughter is hushed.

Now do the actors,

stare at their mirrors,

attuned and aware,

of the music now playing,

of murmur of audience,

of time passing quickly.

*

“Five minute call.”

The ASM turns,

presses finger to lips,

and vanishes.

*

The woodland is suddenly busy with shapes.

Actors with purpose, glide to their places,

touching their hair, checking the props,

awaiting the start of the sad, steely music.

*

The audience are in.

“Full house tonight.

You can tell by their murmur.”

The door to the outside world

is now closing. Now,

the late must wait.

*

Quiet in the wings,

the actors stand,

suspended in a great stillness.

*

One quick glance at her watch,

and the SM gives the nod.

Obediently, the lights dim

and the music grows stronger.

It is happening now.

Now no going back.

The auditorium is dark.

*

A pause.

*

Then, as the sewer-man

kneels to his business,

comes the sudden and joyous

peeling of church bells –

a welcome sound

on a bright golden morning.

That is the cue,

for which they’ve been waiting.

The service is over,

The sermon delivered.

All’s well with the world.

Or so it appears.

*

So with chatter and laughter,

like bold sky divers

the actors step from the wings

and into the light.

*

There’s

a man of the scalpel, and

his henchman with notebook;

tough country lads

who take care of their mum;

women in head-scarves;

a couple with baby;

the hoi polloi and

the toffs of Loudun.

*

There’s

a woman who walks

with a smile of contentment,

and a girl who would dance

though her father forbid her.

And a priest ….

… yes a priest,

and a handsome one too,

who delights in the worldly

life of the senses,

in wit and fine wine

in perfume,

in ladies,

in the smell of wild flowers

on an old country lane…

and who soon will suffer…

unto grace… and ash.

*

But that’s all before us.

In the dark woodland,

the two SMs sigh with relief.

The production is launched,

now they must keep it afloat!

There is much to do. Props to prepare

They smile,

thumbs up,

and vanish.

QUESTIONS

A close friend, with whom I have often worked in the theatre, has sent me ten questions concerning The Disestablishment of Paradise.

My friend has a fine sense of humour backed by a sharp critical mind and a gift for irony: so, even when we jest, I take him seriously. His questions are  clear, informed and provocative, and I hope to respond to them in depth over the next few weeks.

I have decided to publish them initially, more or less as I received them. I think you will enjoy my friend’s wit.

1.             Congratulations on your novel Mr. Mann, I enjoyed it immensely. The women in your books are really something! Miranda in A Land Fit For Heroes became absolutely fearsome. The central character in your latest novel is a woman, the narrator Olivia is a woman, and along the way a number of the characters, beginning with the Captain of the shuttle, whom the unguarded male reader might initially read as male, turn out to be women. Meanwhile the male protagonist, a hard Australian packing muscle and brawn and practical know-how, turns out to be the most intuitive and sensitive, the most “feminine” of them all. Two questions: Were Hera and the narrator always conceived as female from the very start?; and How has your conception of women characters developed through your fiction over the years since The Eye of the Queen?

REPLY. The narrator was a relatively late development. During the writing of the book, I was aware that it bore some similarities to The Eye of the Queen (Eg, a human being residing alone amid an alien race). I can not remember when, but at some point, I decided to solve some of the narrative problems by expanding the narrative laterally, to include historical documents, recorded dialogues etc. This also meant that I needed a narrator – again like The Eye of the Queen. In a way I let the choice be Hera’s – viz. her letter to Olivia in the Introduction. The result was Olivia Ginger – a woman who contrasts with Hera in many ways from looks and temperament to background and experience. They are, however both highly intelligent.  Olivia is somewhat cynical after three failed marriages, while Hera is passionate and still deeply in love with the only man she has ever really known, Mac. You can see the contrast between them when Olivia cries after Hera has revealed her intimacy with Mac (See page 345) Olivia has never achieved that level of intimacy with anyone.  I liked the fact that the two women clashed and argued. These interviews quite naturally became part of the texture of the book.  They allow the reader to hear the authentic voice of Hera. They became so real to me that I only had to start a dialogue to hear their voices.

As regards the second part of your question: Although there are really no women in The Eye of the Queen, all the women in my later books are confident, strong and  passionate women. Miranda in A Land fit for Heroes undergoes many transformations, and ultimately becomes a Goddess. Undoubtedly The Disestablishment of Paradise is my longest and fullest treatment of female character. I can tell you this that I was very surprised when I realized that all, save one, of the major characters in the book are women. That was not planned, it was just the way it worked out – I am very glad to say.

2.            Congratulations on your novel Mr. Mann, I enjoyed etc. If I understand aright, you first conceived and wrote this novel a long time ago, and it has been finally published after a long delay. Two questions:

i)   Has the novel remained substantially the same over the decade or more in which it languished in a drawer? How much revision and rewriting did it undergo when you prepared it for publication?

It has remained substantially the same in content – although I did a bit of trimming and re writing for clarification at the request of the editor, Marcus Gipps. His editing was brilliant and gave me a lot of confidence. However, the basic narrative began as a short story. This became a novella and finally a full novel. There was a point in the writing when it suddenly took off and I got a sense of the scale of what I was attempting. Luckily, this did not happen until I was well advanced in the book and by then the prose was flowing the characters were assertive and Paradise was alive as a place. I loved writing the dialogue sections as they brought me very close to the emotions of the work. I cut out quite a bit and had to weather a lot of well-meaning criticism among which were suggestions that I remove the narrator, that I cut the book in half, that I throw away the documents  etc. etc. Finally, unable to find a publisher, in deep sorrow, I put the book away. It was as complete as I could make it – and to be perfectly frank, I thought it was my best work and I hoped that sometime, perhaps in a hundred years, it would be appreciated for what it is.  I started a new work, which is still not complete. Then of course I heard from Gollancz and it was all systems go again.

ii)  When you first came to New Zealand in the late 1960s, New Zealand seemed to be a comparatively egalitarian society, and we could swim in the rivers. Since then a huge gulf has opened up between rich and poor, and the natural environment has become terribly degraded. So my question is this: Your novel, enthralling and richly rewarding at the literal level, is also richly symbolic; has it been written more out of sadness or anger?

There is both sadness and anger, but there is hope too. The first step in solving a problem is to understand it: that is where literature comes in. We are in crisis, not only in NZ but in the world at large and it must be faced. The deepest ‘message’ of the book – though I did not think in terms of a message when I was writing it – concerns our relationship with Nature.  of which we are a part.  My first aim is always to entertain. Once that is accomplished we can talk about issues. However, I can not help but feel grief when I  see destruction of the environment and read of extinctions. The world does not have to be like this… but the first change must be in our minds. I believe that change is taking place but how long do we have? A video giving an eye-witness account of the oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and the ongoing problems related to it has recently been released in New Zealand. It sounds the tocsin, since the NZ government has granted permission for under sea oil exploration in our waters. If you would like to hear more about the risks, watch the following.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yduv3APYawA&feature=youtu.be

New Zealand takes pride in, and is renowned for, its clean green image. Sadly, it is now a tarnished image and the present government is doing little to improve it. How I wish that we could put ‘Green’ policies at the heart of our planning, whether it be for buildings, transport, power or food production. I know this would be difficult, but there comes a tipping-point after which change becomes almost impossible. The old ways are forgotten: the new ways do not work. I do not want to accused of being an alarmist, but as a writer I must speak the truth as I see it. Paradise reached that tipping point and nature began to rebel. So what are we seeing now with mighty storms in the USA, the worst flooding in Europe for hundreds of years and accelerating levels of CO2 in the atmosphere? The Disestablishment of Paradise is more than just an ecological cri de coeur, but it is a warning, and a recognition that life is precious and very vulnerable. My greatest fear is that we have not evolved institutions which combine compassion with realistic forward thinking: had we done so, we would not be in the mess we are now in. 

3.            Congratulations on your novel Mr Mann, I etc. Following on from that, do you think that in the final analysis your novel is, overall, mostly optimistic or pessimistic: I have my definite opinion about that as a reader, but I’m interested in your thoughts as the author. I think there is a paradox here: books which face the reality of our condition can be seen as pessimistic, but the very act of facing that truth is liberating. Thus a book which deals with suffering can remain positive since it celebrates the human spirit. That is why tragedy – even as extreme as King Lear – is ultimately uplifting. 

In terms of the Disestablishment of Paradise, the book is finally optimistic. But optimism comes at a price and is hard won. The  clever, manipulative mentality represented by Timothy Isherwood and Dr Hilder van Terfel control the world. They have the power and they will use it ruthlessly to their own advantage. In the book they are finally defeated and humiliated – but only because enough good people, fair-minded people, honest people stand up to them. In the back of my mind was the quotation from John Stuart Mill: “‎Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

In the following, I quote from the second chapter of the D of P. Abhuradin, captain of the space platform above Paradise is speaking. She and Hera Melhuish have just had a bruising encounter with Timothy Isherwood and Hilda van Terfel, and both women are a bit shaken and angry. Abhuradin is speaking

And, yes, I do take a keen interest in the economic well-being of Paradise, because I do not want to see it ruined. In my view this would have been a rather nice place to bring up children. Or do you not think of such things?” Hera did not reply. “But worst of all Dr Melhuish, worst of all is to know that you haven’t a clue about what is really going on now. Have you?”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“That meeting just now. What do you think it was about?”

Hera thought for a moment. “Well. They were trying to make a fool of me, thanks to you.  And that van Terfel woman, was clearly primed. But overall I think they were trying to calm us down so that we wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. Buy us off with promises of redundancy payouts. It is an old trick.”

“Wrong. Dr Melhuish. Zero out of ten, Dr Melhuish.” Abhuradin was speaking more softly now and approached Hera until she was very close. “They had a number of agendas, one of which was winding you up so that you would make a fuss and demand an appeal.”

“Why?”

“Because they want you out of the way. When the appeal comes, they’ll crush you. I don’t know how, but they will. They will have something over you, and their planning is probably well advanced already. And then, when you are safely out of the way, they’ll close down Paradise, for a while.”

“What do you mean, ‘for a while?’ Stop talking in riddles. If you know something that I don’t….”

“I know no more than you. But, I know how these things are done. You watch. They’ll disestablish Paradise all right. But they’ll leave the space platform in place. This platform on which we are standing. I stake my career on it.”

“And why would they do that? You heard what that van Terfel woman said about it costing so much money to keep the platform open.”

Captain Abhuradin looked at her in disbelief, and then she spoke very slowly and distinctly. “After about five years, or ten maybe depending on sensibilities, someone somewhere will come up with the bright notion that a place is needed for recreation. And then someone from somewhere else will remember and say “What about that derelict old planet Paradise?” Then they’ll talk to someone in high places who will tell them, “Sorry there is an environmental restriction order placed on Paradise.” Shock! Horror! “But we won’t do any harm. In fact we will enhance the environment. Take me to your leader.” And within a couple of years they’ll be in. And all your nightmares about kiddies’ rides and old folks homes will come true… but it will be worse. It will be a hundred times worse. It will be more terrible than you can ever imagine… because there will be no one here to stop it. Not me. Not you. That is why they need to get rid of you, and all your friends at ORBE, and me too – because I am not thought of as a friend. Come back in ten years and then we’ll see you weep. Those lovely mountains. Those clear seas. No fish there I understand. Is that right?” Hera nodded. “Well there will be. Specially engineered game fish – fresh-water marlin and swordfish. I wouldn’t mind betting that Dr van Terfel has already taken out shares in her grandson’s name. She knows a bargain when she sees one. And she knows a sucker too.”

“What you are saying is nonsense.” Hera tried to sound confident, but her voice sounded weak even to her own ears. “Secretary Isherwood signed the environmental decree. It is ironclad.  ‘No Tourism on Paradise.’”

“Did he? Is it? Well perhaps you know more about men and politics than I do. But if I look at Secretary Isherwood with his bright red robe and his smiling face, I see a man who is political to the core. You don’t get to his position without being a bit corrupt, but nothing illegal, mind you – too smart for that. You can be corrupt without being illegal you know… or perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you are all saints down there in your green-houses. But at the end of the day, smiling Timothy Isherwood will come up smelling of roses. When the time is right and the price is right he will find reasons to sell Paradise to the highest bidder and will introduce a policy review or some such to overturn the environment order. Don’t look so shocked Hera. Use your brain for a change “ She paused and then added, “Like all clever people, the only thing you don’t ever seem to realize is that the enemy is at least as clever as you are. The difference being that they have vastly more power than you… and absolutely no hesitation about using it.”

Captain Abhuradin paused, saddened by the import of her own speech. When she spoke again her tone was more measured. “Your clever quotation earlier about a few good women doing nothing… Well in my view, there are only a few good women and a few good men too, – Tim Isherwood is probably one of the better ones – and the good people have to sleep sometimes and that is when the bad boys do their business. Good bye Hera. Go back down and join your own kind. Write your report.”

Hera stood still. Abhuradin’s words had shocked her and, as happened to her when in a state of shock, she had momentarily become a block of wood. The awful reality behind Abhuradin’s words was dawning on her. Finally she spoke and her voice was small. “Will you be coming to the judicial review?”

“Not unless I am ordered to attend. I shall not be putting in an official submission. No point.      But in any case…”

“In any case what?”

“In any case, I do not want to be there and see you humiliated.”

In writing this I was attempting to show the way an exploitative mind-set operates. The fact is that the Isherwoods and van Terfels of our world would have won had Paradise its self  not decided to take matters into its own hands and protect its self. The very fact that Paradise is now closed to humans is a cause of sadness, because it was so avoidable!

When I was writing the book, I certainly did not feel it was pessimistic, and nor have those who have read it. I believe this is because most of the book is affirmative of the human spirit. The Dendron, with its carefree spirit is saved. Love triumphs even though Hera has to leave Paradise – her fate is to be the one who bears witness. That planet is now cleansing its self, with the aid of certain humans – and it will be a long hard fight, I am sure. But Paradise will triumph if only because greed, manipulation, cheating etc. are ultimately, in their very nature, self-destructive.

Thus, there is movement and there is life. However, I was also aware, that I was quite close to tragedy. And Tragedy, let us remember affirms the human spirit by facing adversity and one’s fate directly. I am reminded of the words of F. L. Lucas in his short book called, simply Tragedy. He ends chapter 3  with the following words. “Tragedy, in fine, is man’s answer to this universe that crushes him so pitilessly. Destiny scowls upon him: his answer is to sit down and paint her where she stands.”

4.            Congratulations on your novel Mr. etc. You have spent most of your professional career working in universities, in the creative field of drama. The word “cleverness” has for you a negative connotation, it implies that someone is merely clever at the risk of something as important or more important.  Questions: How do you rate cleverness? What is the positive antidote to “mere” cleverness, and where do you locate it in daily living and interactions? Hera is cleverer than Mack, but Mack, not Hera, becomes one with Paradise. In your experience, are women both cleverer and more intuitive than men? (I could ask how you now look back on Victoria University of Wellington as an institution and as a community, but I won’t…)

This is a monumental question, or a whole heap of questions. ‘Cleverness’ is, I think, captured nicely in the Wilde’s phrase about people who know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Wilde was replying to a question about cynicism, but the cap still fits. I think I see ‘cleverness’ as almost the antithesis of wisdom, for wisdom always seeks value beyond advantage. Cleverness can be achieved by reading books: wisdom comes from living with reflection. One of the movements in the book is for Hera to move from being clever to becoming something beyond that – I want to avoid the word wisdom. She has suffered, but she has also discovered and continues to be inspired by a deep love both for Mack and for Paradise. She has found the truth inherent in Milton’s sonnet on his blindness : “They also serve who only stand and wait.” I can not pretend to understand Mack beyond saying that he is an instinctive man with the mana of a great leader – though he would never say that. If you asked him where he gets his ability from, he would probably say his ‘granny’. I have known men and women who are both clever (in a generous way) and intuitive – and that has made them into good and abiding friends. To answer your question as directly as I can, I think the world would be a much safer place were it more controlled by women, if only because women are more in contact with their intuition. But men are changing too. Beyond that, generalizations are misleading.

5.            Congratulations on your novel etc. I love the wit and linguistic intuition deployed in your choice of proper names. Proper names and nonsense are always rooted in the particular genius, the intimate spirit of a language. As a translator, I have vaguely consider how I would deal with the names in an Italian translation. Could Gin and Tonic, two glowingly colourless liquids be translated as Campari and Soda. I think not, because the red would throw a totally different light over Paradise.  So two questions. How do these proper names come to you? And does it ever happen that, as a character develops, a name originally chosen turns out to be wrong, or are the names, once chosen, fixed points that never change?

1) How do the proper names come? In my case, the names just come to me as needed. It is no secret that the name a writer gives to character may come to have a deep significance of which the writer may be unaware. I discovered that with the name Pawl Paxwax when I wrote The Fall of the Families. I thought of Hera, in the D of Paradise, before I thought of the classical implications of her name, though I am sure those associations were somewhere in my mind. They were not part of my conscious intention.

2) In my experience, once a name is given it rarely changes but simply grows with the character. I do not write allegorically – though Hackabout might come close. Sometimes the names I use are consciously playful. Thus Dorothy is called Polka, which somehow fits her personality. I do not know where the name Abhuradin came from. I saw her initially as having long dark hair and a brown skin. Later this became a name which could be twisted into many different shapes, depending on who was speaking. That became a kind of game for the other characters. She is, of course, very beautiful – and is adept at handling this not in an exploitative way, but out of necessity. 

6.            Congratulations on your etc. Mack’s wisdom draws particularly on his granny’s experience and poetry. Two questions: To what extent does this draw on you own experiences with older relations or older people in general: and The novel is dedicated to your grandchildren; what sort of grandfather are you are you, and what sort of grandfather do you want to be?

1) I am sure that Mack’s Granny derives from both my Grandmother and my Mother – both of whom I would classify as wise women. My Grandmother had a hard life but was one of the kindest people I have ever known. She used to let me help her cooking and would make up stories. My mother loved poetry and would often quote poems. She also was a wonderful, wild storyteller. 

2) What sort of grandfather am I? You must ask my grandchildren. I shall be happy if, at the end of the day, my grandchildren remember me as someone who was fun, a bit disreputable perhaps, but definitely on their side.

7.            Congratulations on etc.  Following on for this, there is a lovely thread of quotation and reference running through the novel which provides a special novelty to those who recognise them, but this is never, in my opinion, something flaunted and gratuitous. There are a number of references but Shakespeare predominates. My next question is rather complicated and circuitous, but here goes. “By indirections find directions out…” That of course is the suspect and Machiavellian Polonius, but taken out of context the quotation seems to me to describe a favourite narrative manoeuvre and favourite pattern of yours. Our way to the truth is never direct, but goes in roundabout ways, following the circling paths, the whirlpool, the crop circle, of a Michelangelo-Reaper. So my question is this. Your life has brought you to this point, of being a grandfather and writing this novel. Have the crucial choices you have made in  your life, the decisions whether to turn to the left or to the right, been based on conscious choices or on hunches? A less personal way of framing this question is: How do we come to the truth of our experience and distil it in a novel?

I need to think a lot more about this. It is a very good question.

8.            Congratulations etc. Mack teaches Hera how to be a bloke working in a team: you don’t engage in useless talk, you don’t compliment people directly, you are laconic, ironic, matter-of-fact and you just shut up, don’t indulge in emotions, and get on with the job. And if you get into a life-threatening situation you have to know exactly and in advance who’s calling the shots. Were you drawing on any personal experiences when you wrote this, or were they mostly stories and reports which triggered your imagination?

Those words came from Mack. When one is writing well, that character speak for you. You don’t have to plan anything. It happens, and then you just tidy up the loose ends. So, in a way I was a bit surprised to hear Mack say these things.

At the same time I have done some dangerous jobs in my time, jobs in which one has to trust one’s buddy. It can be a matter of life or death. Working at the top of a ladder high in the grid hanging lights of scenery can be very scary. I was once in that situation with someone who was handling scaffolding pipes. He turned round with a long pipe and struck me. Luckily I saw it coming and was able to hang on – but if it had knocked me off the ladder I would not be writing these words now. At the same time, I worked with another man in the grid and I knew that he would never make a mistake like that. He knew danger intuitively and so one was safe with him. On another occasion, when I was a young man, I was working as ploughman on a farm in the North of England. I  had to reverse the tractor so that another man could attach a shackle. One slip from me on the tractor clutch and he would have been crushed by the plough. Such things make one very thoughtful. Mack is just being careful. When you are in real danger, you want to be with realistic people, not heroes or gamblers. And Mack is right. Clever people might ask questions or argue the toss, and the  next thing you know, the ship is on the rocks.

9.            Congrats etc. With reference to literary patterns and antecedents, I’d add this. Your novels have an epic sweep. The epic, rather than “science fiction”, is your preferred genre. From the Renaissance onwards, the great modern epics have always included an episode in which the protagonist dips out of martial action and enjoys a pastoral interlude, before they are jolted back by some means to resume their destinies in “the real world”, which involves blood and death. I don’t know if you ever read a well-known critical book of our youth, which covered the topic of literary paradise, entitled“The Earthly Paradise” by an author called Giamatti. A paradise has always been conceived of as a garden. I gather that the Greek word from which “paradise” derives was originally used by Xenophon to describe the parks of Persian kings and nobles. Milton of course – not, I would imagine but I may be wrong, a favourite author of yours devoted his novel – at the end of this sequence of Renaissance epics, devotes his entire poem to the expulsion from the biblical paradise. At the end of his “Purgatory”, Dante, who has been led through hell, has to be purged of sin in order to re-enter the Garden of Eden in a renewed state of innocence, as a new Adam. I’d better try and get a question or two out of these ruminations. I won’t ask you to what extent did any of this literature condition you, consciously or unconsciously: that might be a question too complicated to unravel. Try these: What importance do gardens and gardening have for you and why? and Does the lure of your gardens ever outweigh your desire for fame through wrestling with words?

1 What importance do gardens have for me? A great deal. Many of my happiest memories as a child are to do with the time I spent mucking about in gardens. But they are also places of contemplation. I love, for example, the idea that the teachings of  Epicurus took place in a garden. I am somewhat a follower of Epicurus though we know little about him. I love the perfume of flowers, the busy buzzing of bees and the strange creaking of trees. At times being in a forest, or in the bush in New Zealand is like being in a cathedral. When I die, I would like my ashes to be sprinkled in a garden and hope fully they will help the flowers grow. For a while I studied Herbalism and I still believe the best cures are those provided by nature – which is not to say I do not appreciate our developments in surgery and medicine.

2. Does the lure of the garden outweigh … wrestling with words?  Yes. When I finally hang up my type writer – ok computer – I can think of nothing nicer than sitting in the garden with a good book and a glass of wine never out of reach.

10.       Cong. etc.  One of the greatest characters in the novel is yet another female, Sasha Malik. Two questions.

i)          Did you write the Documents as you went along, or are they early compositions as you built up your picture of Paradise by constructing its history, or are they, or some of them, afterthoughts.

 Yes. I wrote then as I went along. The documents came, more or less as needed. Writing them gave me an understanding of what was happening. Thus, when I wrote Sasha Malic’s story Shunting A Rex, it was so that I could get a sense of a Dendron in full motion. At the same time, I discovered this wonderful storyteller Sasha who wrote about Paradise with intimate assurance. She wrote about the Paradise she knew as home, and she was one of the wild women of Paradise (of which there were many) who would follow their heart regardless of the consequences. This encouraged me to write other stories by Sasha since via her stories I could – painlessly, as it were – convey more information about Paradise. I too was learning from Sasha and I could hear her voice very clearly in my head. In the story How the Valentine Lily Got its Name, I was able to show how Sasha took a real and horrific incident of cruelty – an example of the kind of thing which was polluting the mind-space of Paradise – and was able to transform it into a love story. Sasha is truly a child of Paradise: her body would never be rejected and exhumed. She became very real to me, almost a kind of guide. At one point I did think of writing more stories by Sasha just for the sheer joy of doing it. 

Thus, the Documents are an integral part of the text. They help explain the novel and give depth to the incidents. It is via the Documents that we come to see that the brilliant Professor Shapiro is a wounded hero, an addict to the plum, and his tragedy is that he knows that when his end comes, he will be rejected by Paradise. Hence he asks to be sent back to England.

The document  One Friday Morning at Wishbone Bay is integral to the novel. It allowed me to reveal the Dendron as Marie Newton and her children saw it. I was able to use this as the basis for Mack to work from. He has to go back to first principles and realize where Marie Newton got it wrong. There was a certain finesse about that.

Anyone who thinks the Documents are just a fancy add-on is deeply mistaken.

ii)         If this were a traditional picaresque novel, the documents would feature as inserted tales and documents included in the main body of the narrative – as such items are in fiction from Don Quixote to Pickwick Papers. How do you envisage your readers reading them? Interrupting their reading as they go along, or reading them as a set as they go along, as an appendix or postscript? Are they integral to the story or add-ons, in your authorial view?

I did not know how the audience would read them. I wanted the Documents to be able to stand alone; but at the same time, I was at pains to direct the reader to a relevant document when it would amplify the event. I wanted also for each of the Document writers (Sasha, Shapiro, Marie Newton, Wendy Tattersall etc.) to have their own voice. I wanted the to add to the texture and density of the novel. Clearly, Olivia Ginger had done her homework in preparing the text.

 There we are. Thank you for these questions. You made me think more deeply about the book.  I hope my answers are clear.

Cover Illustration by Chris Moore

Published by Victor Gollancz. London. March 2013.  ISBN 978-0-5713262-7

***

The Disestablishment of Paradise

Review written by ‘Antony’ of SF Book Review. April 5th 2013

http://sfbook.com/the-disestablishment-of-paradise.htm

Something is going wrong on the planet of Paradise: crops will no longer grow while those imported are withering and dying in their droves. The indigenous plant life (never entirely safe) is becoming wildly unpredictable and dangerous. And so the order is given to abandon Paradise, all personnel to be removed and re-assigned – all human presence on the planet will be disestablished.

There are some who believe that Paradise still has secrets to reveal and more to offer the human race and that the risks of staying are far outweighed by the potential rewards. Hera, the leader of the research team is one person and together with Mack, the leader of the “demolition” team sets off across the planet to find the near-mythical Dendron, the last of it’s kind.

The Disestablishment of Paradise is an incredible book, it’s got that indescribable feeling of a science fiction classic; told by a talented story-teller and spoken in a confident voice. It’s also quite different to anything I have read before, a wonderfully alien world that is described in brilliant detail that feeds the imagination as Comparisons to Ursula K Le Guin’s seminal works such as The Word for World is Forest are inevitable; as is just about any novel that focuses on world ecology and man’s nature to control, hunt and strip a habitat for their own ends. The Disestablishment of Paradise does an admirable job of educating the reader without preaching to them (a mistake many fall foul of) – while also evoking the grand majesty and mystery of something truly alien in a way no book has quite managed to before (only Peter Hamilton coming anywhere near).

This alienness is truly remarkable which together with Hera’s and Mack’s relationship is amongst the highlight of the book. That’s not to say there isn’t anything else to like: the story is well constructed, feeling very organic in nature and moving forward without the reader even realising and the prose is quite exceptional; evoking a true sense of wonder on a number of occasions. Even amongst all this alien flora there is a certain sense of reality too, grounded by the earthy narrative structure and no-nonsense dialogue.

Science Fiction in the truest sense of the word, The Disestablishment of Paradise is everything a genre book should be; accessible, entertaining, rewarding and thoughtful – awakening a sense of wonder very much like those authors did in the golden age of science fiction.

***

The book was awarded 4 out of 5 stars

The approach to reviewing adopted by SFBook.com, (the website from which this review was copied) is explained in their ABOUT US section. ‘Antony’ – who wrote the review – explains:

SFBook Reviews is a none profit book review website designed to showcase the very best fiction, most of which will be within the genres of Fantasy, Sci-fi or Horror. The website is one of the oldest of it’s type still going, beginning way back 1999 before the advent smart phones, flying cars and politician expenses fraud…….

You will probably notice that the majority of reviews tend towards the positive and this is mainly due to the fact that I choose very carefully which novels are accepted, there simply is not enough time in the world to read too many badly written books. Even after all these years a few do sneak through, however these tend to be few and far between.

We are always willing to accept guest reviews and welcome anyone who wants to be a regular contributor to the website.

The Reviewers

Ant (Antony Jones)

The website is owned, designed and managed by myself – Antony Jones (Ant) and I also provide the actual reviews, which are the personal opinion of myself. All of this is done in my (limited) spare time and as such there is a real finite amount of reviews that can be published on the site.

I always read the full book before writing a review and try to be as constructive as possible. You may notice that some reviews are shorter than others around the internet and this is mainly due to the fact that I try and give as little of the actual plot away as possible so that the joy of exploring the story is not damaged for the reader in any way.

Another Letter…

… one which I liken to a pebble tossed into still water… the ripples spread wide, beyond the  confines of the book and let me see things I had not seen before. The letter is from Brett Shand.

***

Hi Phil,

Just some random thoughts. Memories, ideas and dreams triggered by your book. I’ll read it again soon and things will no doubt things will become clearer.

So … I’ve just finished reading ‘The Disestablishment of Paradise.’ I like it very much. It is a tale, almost a myth, for our times and one that still, may the gods help us, needs to be told over and over again. A while ago I travelled to choir practice in a car with a man who was very loudly telling everyone how everything about climate change was a lie, a conspiracy of the lefties, that there were twenty-thousand research papers to prove his point. You have no doubt heard him. The sadness was that his strident opposition made his terror that his safety and his world were dissolving about him very clear. My heart broke for him; what a way to live. He needs this book. We all do.

For me, you have waded into deep and dark waters. Many years ago now an Anglican minister said to me (and others) that the great division in the world was between those who needed beliefs and those who wanted faith. That rang bells with me. To hold a set of beliefs and not become a “true-believer” is very difficult; to not step over the line that divides “I believe” and “My beliefs are right and therefore you are wrong” and so enlivening all the evils that spring from that. Faith requires doubt, because it is doubt that keeps faith a living thing, constantly changing and responding to us and our world and the universe. But to live in that space of faith and doubt is also very difficult. The ambivalence and the ambiguities that are there make it a place where great courage and compassion (especially for ourselves) are needed. Which brings us to the book and me. Over the years, starting from when I was about two, I have had a number experiences that have left me with a deep feeling of connection to … what? Your ‘Paradise’ explores that ‘what.’ The faith – along with the deep and sometimes agonizing doubt I have – that everything is connected. The “deep root” of Paradise is the way I want things to be but I am not at all sure that it is. Ah, the troubles I construct for myself. So it is a comfort to find that there is at least one other (two, if you count Ursula Le Guin as I most surely do) who shares the same faith. The faith that we are wanted children of the universe; really, how could it be otherwise?

Angelo (Pioneers), Marius Thorndyke (Eye of the Queen), Jon Wilberfoss (Wulfsyarn) and Hera Melhuish from this book, are all chips off the same mystical block. The person of deep faith and the sceptical scientist battling it out in there, just like me. How I resonate to their struggles and their doubts. And out there is Paradise gradually becoming sentient and absorbing the violence and cruelty of its human inhabitants and their love and hope. (By the way I loved the story of Sasha getting her man. Deeply touching and hilarious at the same time.) And Paradise slowly turns on it’s human inhabitants almost in spite of itself. Is the Earth (and the Universe?) going to shrug too? I think maybe it will. Or is.

The Reapers are spread over the Paradise’s mountains like spiral arm galaxies with the Reaper itself like the black hole at the centre. Maybe Paradise is a symbol for our relationship to the whole universe as well with its great stream of pre-ethical love and healing pouring in. Ah, I hope it is so. I used to work with men like the demolition boss, Mack, so he is familiar to me. I once worked with a gravedigger who left home at twelve with his swag to help build the Otira tunnel. He used to quote Henry Vaughan to me as he dug.

“I saw Eternity the other night

Like a great ring of pure and endless light,

All calm, as it was bright,”

was a particular favourite as I remember. I had never heard of Henry Vaughan at the time which puzzled him because I was a “college boy.” He said he lived entirely on whiskey and condensed milk sandwiches. A hard but gentle man who said he’d never had a job that wasn’t on the wrong end of a bloody shovel. There is often a deep certainty in men like Mack which I admire, but it gets them in trouble too. Mack and Hera dividing the Dendron. Oh my! What a story.

So anyway, I liked the book very much. I liked and believed in the characters. The
narrative thread was strong and convincing. I read the quote below in the Oct-Nov 2012 edition of The Catholic Worker. It comes from a man writing an obituary for another much loved and very private man. How do you write an obituary for someone without invading their privacy? He was by Frank’s side when he was dying and had an epiphany:
“On that night, Frank led me out of the cave of illusion, took me by the hand, and guided me into the sunshine where I could see the shadow cast by the face of God. Aristotle claimed that a friend is another self. Frank is much more than a friend …. His love became the gateway through which transcendence became immanent for me …. The story isn’t about [ourselves]. This story is really about that One whose name cannot be uttered ,whose mystery cannot be comprehended, only felt.”

So it is with books, with this book.

Brett

The Disestablishment Of Paradise
by Phillip Mann
Gollancz.

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson

***

The Disestablishment of Paradise is a stunningly brilliant novel.

Things are going wrong on the planet of Paradise. Crops are failing and the indigenous plant life is changing in unpredictable ways. And so the powers that be make the decision to close the planet down, to cut their losses and leave the place to itself. Paradise will be disestablished.

The book is supposedly written long after the disestablishment has taken place, and the events are recollected with the benefit of hindsight. The person most closely involved was Hera Melhuish and her story is told by her biographer, a sometime fiction writer called Olivia. This distancing device is a very clever literary strategy on Phillip Mann’s part – Hera is quite an unpleasant person, stubborn, reckless, often stupid and hopelessly naïve. Seeing her through the filter of Olivia’s eyes makes her a little more bearable. Indeed, Olivia often interrupts her own narrative to remonstrate with some of Hera’s more outrageous or peculiar attitudes.The major strength of the novel is the wonderfully imagined world of Paradise itself. Phillip Mann has always had a genius for creating alien life and never has it been better exemplified than in this book. There are no animals, birds insects or fish on Paradise. All ecological niches are filled by plants such as the ubiquitous Tattersall weed, the dangerous Michelangelo-Reaper and the fabulous Dendron Peripatetica, long thought to be extinct until the last one in existence walks into Hera’s life. In the body of the book, Hera and her companion Mack are often threatened by the flora of Paradise, but appended to the narrative are historical documents from the early years of settlement which show that the planet was once a much more benign place than it is now. Its name was aptly chosen. This too is a very clever literary strategy and I would have liked to have seen many more of these early documents. They definitely add a rich dimension to the story, though it is depressing to realise just how much things have changed on Paradise.

It quickly becomes clear that there is a psychic undertone to the events on Paradise. And again the cleverness of the literary structure that Phillip Mann has imposed on the story comes to the fore. Hera, despite having had extensive scientific training and experience, descends into mysticism as the psychic aspects of the connectedness of life on the planet become clear to her. Many of her colleagues argue against this mumbo-jumbo and even her biographer Olivia is extremely sceptical, though Hera seems to find it transformational. Such appeals to the numinous are perfectly legitimate literary devices for a science fiction novel to indulge itself in (Arthur C. Clarke, for example, did it all the time). Indeed, you can easily argue that this is a major reason for having science fiction as a literary form in the first place – we all like to try to explain the inexplicable and science fiction does that better than any other medium. However it is all too easy in a book like this to stray over what is often a vaguely drawn line in the sand and descend into claptrap. But by presenting both argument and counter argument as he does, Phillip Mann generally avoids this and the story is much stronger as a result.

However even Homer nods – Mack uses a dowsing pendulum to track down the Dendron (at one point the pendulum is referred to as a “precision instrument” – humph!) and Hera laments that if only Galileo had spent as much time studying Earth magic as he spent studying maths and optics then the world would have been a very different place; a statement that, quite typically for Hera, makes no sense whatsoever.

Mack’s dowsing ability is not an outgrowth of the ever stronger psychic influences of Paradise – I think I would have accepted it more easily if it had been. It is clear from context that this is a power he has used throughout his life. In terms of the novel it’s simply a rabbit pulled out of a hat, a deus ex machina called into play out of nowhere to resolve a knotty plot problem. Such things never satisfy.

But in the final analysis, none of this matters. What matters is the tremendous and wonderfully sustained and consistent vision that is Paradise itself, that beautifully imagined world which the book brings so vividly to life.

Let me end as I began. The Disestablishment of Paradise is a stunningly brilliant novel.