From an award-winning poet, Daisy LaFarge comes a hypnotic debut novel about a young woman falling under the spell of an older man. Paul, inevitably the focus of the novel, is not only concealing his hidden past but openly uses Frances’ willingness to please as the foundation of their relationship. A formidable and heady novel, Paul has the potential to be triggering and emotive, but surely this is the basis of a great novel.
Daisy LaFarge was born in Hastings and studied at the University of Edinburgh. Her debut novel Paul was awarded a pre-publication Betty Trask Award in 2019. Her first poetry collection Life Without Air (Granta 2020) was recommended by the Poetry Book Society and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2020.
Frances is a young graduate student spending a summer volunteering in rural France, in the hope that tending vegetables and harvesting honey will distract her from a scandal that drove her out of Paris, her research unfinished and her sense of self unmoored. She aims to find peace in the mountains and local people, and goes out of her way whilst at the eco-farm Noa Noa.
At the eco-farm Noa Noa, named for his adventures in Tahiti, she comes under the influence of its charismatic and domineering owner, Paul. As his hold over her tightens and her plans come unstuck, she finds herself entangled in a disorienting, uneven relationship. Though moments of realisation that her relationship with people here (particularly Paul) are not healthy, the alluring nature of Paul opens the door to forget those, despite occasionally prodding. It is during a fraught road trip across the South of France that certain pasts are unearthed and both are forced to reckon with uncomfortable truths.
A compelling and unsettling story of control, passivity and doing what it is ‘good’, Paul introduces a novelist of extraordinary vision and lyricism. Daisy’s prose is wonderful, making it almost impossible to put the book down, with characterisation to make you feel invested; we all strive for Frances to do what is ‘good’ for herself. Heartily recommend that you all read this novel; hardly surprising it had already won a prize before it was fully formed. I’m excited for it now it is.
Paul is out in August 2021, published by Granta