cover image Paradise Rot

Paradise Rot

Jenny Hval, trans. from the Norwegian by Marjam Idriss. Verso, $16.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-78663-383-5

Musician Hval weaves a strange and lyrical tale of a young woman trying to navigate a foreign world in her intriguing if uneven debut. Johanna is a Norwegian exchange student at Aybourne University in Britain in need of a flat. When she responds to an ad seeking a “QUIET” respondent, she finds herself embarking on a bizarre journey with her new flatmate Carral Johnston. Johanna’s new lodgings are strange indeed: in a renovated warehouse, with thin plaster walls that stretch only halfway to the high ceilings. Sounds echo oddly throughout, so that Carral speaking in the bathroom sounds as though she’s everywhere, smudging the boundaries between what is personal and what is shared. Johanna’s study of mycelium begins to take over her life in a literal fashion; mushrooms sprout from the walls of the flat and distinctions between life forms become blurred. Carral and Johanna, it turns out, might be two women, or one. Hval’s writing is surreal and rich with the grotesque banalities of human existence: urine, decay, mold. The prose is principally concerned with the varying feelings of grossness: from the mealy slime of a rotting apple to a man exposing himself on a train. Though the images can be striking, the reader begins to get the sense that there’s not much substance behind them, making for an visceral yet thin novel. (Oct.)