Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 1, 2013

Julia Paradise, by Rod Jones

Julia ParadiseI’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Rod Jones until Text Publishing released Julia Paradise in its Text Classics series, but it turns out that he is a prolific author, with these impressive books to his credit:

1986 Julia Paradise (1998 Adelaide Festival winner & shortlisted for the Miles Franklin)
1991 Prince of the Lilies
1995 Billy Sunday (The Age Fiction Book of the Year, and National Book Council Award for Fiction)
1998 Nightpictures (shortlisted for the 1998 Miles Franklin)
2003 Swan Bay (shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s and Qld Literary Awards)
and his next novel (coming after a bit of a gap) is due for release in 2014 Empire Street.

Julia Paradise is a disturbing novel.  Not long, at only 131 pages,  but I found myself flicking back through it again and again when a seemingly innocuous character or event turned out to have unexpected resonances.  It is so well-crafted that every word and sentence seems to have more meaning than at first reading.  But its themes are dark and many readers will not like it.

Kenneth ‘Honeydew’ Ayres is a Scots physician who lost his young wife to the Spanish flu in 1919 and set sail for the east as a cure for his grief.  Would he have been less of a monster had she lived?  That’s one of the imponderables of this novel: what absence of inhibition made a sexual predator of this man?

Jones describes China of 1927 as ‘a pestilential dreamscape of suffering’ but for Ayres, life as an expat is very pleasant.  He is oblivious to the looming civil war and the impending invasion of Japan, and in the British Concession there are no constraints on his appetites.  The irony of his profession isn’t subtle: he’s a disciple of Freud and his practice consists of treating the ‘hysterical’ women of Shanghai – though his methods would have him disbarred in any jurisdiction today…

One day, an Australian Methodist missionary called Willy Paradise brings his wife in for treatment.  Julia is a morphine addict and she suffers from hallucinations – snakes, toads and other horrid animals.  She behaves in very odd ways and Ayres is fascinated.  But is she mad, or is she cunning?  The erotic stories of her childhood are shocking, but are they true?  Are her photographs of Shanghai’s underbelly merely a hobby?  Who is lying, and why?

Ayres’ Paradise is lost when China erupts into civil chaos.  Shanghai is wracked by strikes, shootings, and grisly discoveries – and missionaries who would not abandon their posts for their wives’ sake are recalled to the UK for their own safety.  The sense of privilege and entitlement evaporates when the local police condone violence against the mission and for Ayres it coincides with being forced to confront his own dark deeds.  In an otherwise meticulously crafted novel, I didn’t find Ayres’ redemption in the closing chapter of the book very convincing.

Horrific events are rendered in a dry, matter-of-fact tone, evoking the males’ sense of entitlement and lack of feeling for the females whose bodies they use.  It’s a very bleak view of men: they’re either toad-like predators or impotent.   Willy’s name might well have the meaning ‘determined protector’ but Jones has used it ironically. Julia, on the other hand, means ‘youthful’, but it is on her end-of-an-era 31st birthday that the childlike insouciance of the protagonists is exploded along with the fireworks.  Floods, fires, skin-diseases, fireworks – everything in this novel is pregnant with meaning and each page that is re-read reveals yet another thread in a complex narrative.

I think that most of Rod Jones other books are out-of-print but I shall scout around at the library to see what I can find.

The brilliantly allusive cover design is by W.H. Chong.

Author: Rod Jones
Title: Julia Paradise
Introduction by Emily Maguire
Publisher: Text Classics series, Text Publishing, 2013, first published 1986
ISBN: 9781922147127
Source: Review copy courtesy of Text Publishing

Availability

Fishpond: Julia Paradise (Text Classics)
Or direct from Text.


Responses

  1. Nice review, Lisa. This looks like a powerful and bleak book. Nice to know that the ending is redemptive for the main character, though it is not very convincing. It is sad that though Rod Jones has been repeatedly shortlisted for literary awards, most of his works are out of print. Hope one of the publishers brings them back so that new readers can enjoy his works. Thanks for this wonderful review.

    • As a matter of interest, Vishy, what’s the situation with backlists in India? Do publishers and booksellers tend to keep most of an author’s backlist available? Or are they more likely to just have the most recent book available?

      • That is an interesting question, Lisa. With respect to Indian writers writing in English, typically the whole backlist is available. But for Indian writers writing in regional languages, it is difficult to say. Because most of these writers are published by small publishing companies owned by a family, sometimes some of the books in a writer’s backlist are not available. Sometimes new publishers come up and they try to get the entire backlist of a writer published but not all writers get this kind of attention. So things are inconsistent and unpredictable. To manage this situation, what I normally do is, when I discover that a book is difficult to get and has been reissued after a long time and is on a theme that I am interested in, I get it even if I am not going to read it immediately. I have a big unread collection which I have built like this :)

        • Yes, I do the same with Australian authors. It’s a case of buy it when you see it, in case it’s not there next time you look.

          • I loved what you said, Lisa – ‘Buy when you see it’ :)

  2. never heard of him at all be googling after this impressive list of prize wins ,all the best stu

  3. I read Julia Paradise, years ago and wasn’t that impressed. However I did read Swan Bay last night and it is quite good. “A novel of Destiny, Desire and Death”. It is set in Melbourne, and you will question the probability of some actions but the themes are interesting. It is a short novel and very readable.

    Meg

    • Hi Meg, I think I read somewhere that all his novels are short, almost novellas?
      Set in Melbourne certainly sounds appealing:)
      Lisa

  4. […] Jones’ new novel The Mothers is such a different book to Julia Paradise (see my review)- it’s hard to believe it’s by the same author.  At one level, it’s a family […]


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