Paradise by Greg Lazarus

Trouble in Paradise

Gareth Langdon reviews the new novel by Greg Lazarus

BY GARETH LANGDON

Paradise is the second novel by husband-and-wife literary duo Greg Fried and Lisa Lazarus, publishing under the pen name Greg Lazarus. While the couple is perhaps best known for their explorations of early parenthood in The Book of Jacob: A Journey into Parenthood, their first novel under the moniker was the psychological thriller When in Broad Daylight I Open My Eyes.

Paradise features a revolving cast of characters; each with their own chapters. Hershel Bloch, a middle-aged man soon to be divorced, finds himself disillusioned with the real estate business, realising that he has spent his adult years living a mediocre and unfulfilled life, and thus confirming his family’s low expectations of him. Hope is restored when he meets Kaat de Groot (aka Maja Jellema), a mysterious Dutch woman, who expresses interest in renting a property from Bloch as a cover for more sinister plans. Jellema proceeds to track down Bloch’s ‘illegitimate’ daughter from his deceased first love – Surita, a feisty young judo champion with a confused sexual identity and a dark past.

Not much else happens in the novel. There are plot twists but these are underwhelming and often predictable. While they sometimes demonstrate a semblance of humanity (and at others venture tentatively into the realm of the existential), the personalities on the pages lack imagination. These are stock characters: The middle-aged white man in crisis; the mysteriously attractive yet dangerous women he thinks will save him, but who actually clubs him on the head with a chair; the estranged daughter suffering a crisis of her own.

Although fairly bland, their personalities do at times interact in interesting ways, resulting in some entertaining moments. In one of these moments, Herschel, high on ecstasy, is naked in a swimming pool with a stranger. His daughter arrives and throws him over her shoulder in what is their first meeting. These episodes redeem the novel to a degree, offering a little of what Sarah Lotz calls the novel’s “perfectly pitched black humour” in her cover shout.

The book’s greatest shortcoming, though, is that it offers no real continuity. Each chapter contains a single event, made to be comedic and absurd, all leading up to a disappointing non-climax lacking any kind of plot resolution. The ending appears rushed, moving swiftly to a plot cul-de-sac.

While there is no doubt that the Greg Lazarus partnership has potential ­– their grasp of language and prodding at character relationships and comedic situations at times inspired – the novel still feels like the work of two separate minds.

Paradise is published by Kwela and is available from Kalahari.com.

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