Par­adise Rot

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Fiction - KAREN RIGBY

Jenny Hval Verso (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $16.95 (160pp) 978-1-78663-383-5

Mu­si­cian Jenny Hval’s Par­adise Rot fol­lows a Nor­we­gian bi­ol­ogy stu­dent and her hy­per­tuned sen­si­tiv­i­ties. Elec­tric, idio­syn­cratic, and dis­turb­ing ob­ser­va­tions elu­ci­date Jo’s sex­ual awak­en­ing.

Newly ar­rived in an English univer­sity town, Jo takes up res­i­dence in a con­verted brew­ery. On this imaginative stage—built of plas­ter­board and mez­za­nines—there’s lit­tle pri­vacy and plen­ti­ful fun­gal growth. From the out­set, the sense that there’s some­thing amiss in­fuses each scene. The apart­ment skill­fully hints at the im­per­ma­nence of Jo’s sit­u­a­tion, all while sig­nal­ing the un­de­fined empti­ness that marks her de­par­ture from home.

Jo im­me­di­ately ex­pe­ri­ences a bar­rage of sen­sory feed­back. She can hear inan­i­mate ob­jects. Her room­mate Car­ral’s ac­tions am­plify through the walls. Noth­ing passes Jo’s no­tice. An un­fil­tered, re­lent­less ar­ray of fe­cund de­tails threaten and be­guile her, cre­at­ing a moody por­trait of a young woman set­tling into her­self, all while leav­ing her state of mind in mys­te­ri­ous flux.

Less a straight­for­ward novel based on char­ac­ter­i­za­tion than a near al­le­gor­i­cal ex­plo­ration of lives bound by their own choices, the work builds a series of crescen­dos. The­matic sec­tions take ev­ery­day en­coun­ters—from a haul of ap­ples that even­tu­ally spoil to a neigh­bor’s awk­ward visit— and paint them through Jo’s in­tense per­spec­tive.

As bound­aries between the room­mates blur, the story gath­ers in­trigue. Car­ral, in par­tic­u­lar, takes on an eerie role that fills the de­cay­ing apart­ment. Her un­ex­plained ges­tures, which in­clude cut­ting her own hair and ap­pear­ing at Jo’s bed­side, be­gin to shift the story from one of Jo’s adap­ta­tion to the town of Ay­bourne to a more sin­is­ter one of room­mates caught in an in­ter­de­pen­dent web. The less the young women speak about their sit­u­a­tion, the more their si­lences gain sig­nif­i­cance.

Psy­cho­log­i­cally dark and at times claus­tro­pho­bic, this un­usual de­but por­trays raw want as a grad­ual en­croach­ment. Par­adise Rot dances between dreams and night­mares.

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