Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez is a love story, a King Lear retelling, and a Caribbean epic all rolled into one. Peter Ducksworth may be Trinidadian to the bone, but he and his beloved three daughters are white, and the legacy of their skin color is impossible to ignore. Like Shakespeare’s famous king, Ducksworth hopes to avoid familial strife after his death by announcing how his assets will be divided among his children while he still lives – but he cannot predict the chaos that unfolds from that decision. Émile, an aspiring writer and teacher, finds himself drawn into the drama when his best friend, Albert, falls for Ducksworth’s oldest daughter, Glynis, and he finds himself drawn to the youngest daughter, Corinne.
I was impressed by Nunez’s writing from the very first page of Even in Paradise. Her prose has a timeless quality, abundant in detail and vivid description, and her rich evocation of culture, place, and identity make this an easy and compelling read – the Caribbean islands of Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica are just as much characters as any of the people in the novel. As an outsider who still has emotional ties to the unfolding drama of the Ducksworth clan, Émile is situated perfectly as a narrator able to give full body to the story and its broader social implications. Plus, Nunez draws the Lear comparisons so expertly, you’ll find yourself wondering if the Caribbean wasn’t the original setting for this story after all (but don’t worry…the ending of Nunez’s epic is far more satisfying).
Some readers might feel that the Lear comparison is drawn a little too closely, and I’ll admit that it is a little odd that though Émile, a writer, comments upon the similarity between Ducksworth’s situation and Lear’s more than once, he – and all the other characters – are unable to predict the outcome of events. But to that I’d respond that it would be far more strange if Nunez neglected to note the connection entirely; it would be a changed world indeed where Shakespeare had never made that particular contribution to his corpus, or if these characters were somehow unaware of it.
Even in Paradise is a fast and thought-provoking read, as well as being a great juicy drama to dive into just as the weather gets warmer. I’d suggest checking it out!
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.