Reviewed by Paul Kane
by Rosa Liksom
Translated by David McDuff
Dalkey Archive Press
March 2007, Paperback: 117 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1564784377
Dark Paradise is divided into two sections, labeled respectively “Domestic” and “Foreign”, although the reason for these labels is not exactly clear from the text. Each section consists of a number of short, untitled, discrete narratives, unrelated to each other, except perhaps in theme (but whether this commonality of theme has occurred by design, or is simply a reiteration of the author’s obsessions, is likewise uncertain). The longest story comes to 5 pages, but most stretch to 2 or 3 only: these are very short stories. It would be fair to say that most aim primarily to capture a voice, or to create and explore a mood, rather than to tell a tale: though some of these vignettes (a likely word to solder in around about here) definitely feel like fragments of larger stories, icy slivers of unlived life. Invective is the predominant tone. It is present in the reactionary ramblings of a patriot, the tormented reasoning of a compulsive cleaner and the unnervingly bland justifications of a sociopath: to choose three characters from Rosa Liksom’s bestiary. Her characters don’t do happy and content very well, but as compensation there are some fine moments of black comedy (and a satiric intent is evident on occasion too). The best pieces are diverting, liberating and even cathartic, especially if one is subject to worry, uncertainty and dread. The experience of reading them is not quite like eating cherries, but they do follow easily one after another.
A few pieces are quite outstanding and worth enumerating. One includes the insight (de Sade got it down first, mind) that the enactment of a really rather grotesque sexual fantasy is a way of expressing and controlling certain rather worse anti-social impulses. A second seems like an episode from a darkly surreal film noir. A third is about a game of dare involving self-harm and, by logical extension, suicide. This piece reminded me of a common (in certain of my circles anyway) adolescent pastime: you take turns to throw a knife to each other, but to earn points must catch it by its blade. There’s the same sense in Liksom’s story that dreadful consequences, despite being wholly avoidable, will transpire.
To come to a judgment: the pieces in Dark Paradise hit home more often than not, and the way in which an overarchingly oppressive mood is sustained frequently impresses. There is a certain gloomy repetition, though, and the dark doesn’t lift; the sex here is never about reproduction, and happy families are a long way off. The translation by David McDuff is smooth and accomplished, and at her best Rosa Liksom reminds one of Thomas Bernhard or the Jerzy Kosinski of Cockpit.
Now I’m off to read some Wodehouse or Stephen Leacock; I think I’ve earned it.
About the reviewer:Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org