365 Books in 365 Days – Episode 192 by Annie Walton Doyle

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor

“As if a rotten swamp of a cunt justified all that effort, all that energy, the carnage that was to come, their lives devastated, everything gone for a second-rate fucking snatch: a grubby, slimy, murky hole.”

The reading experience of Fernanda Melchor’s incel horror story, Paradais, is unlike any other – and I’ve read nearly 200 books this year. It’s visceral, foul, violent, and nauseating. That said, the book is also an incredible artistic endeavor. Depicting the true, abject hopelessness of two teenage boys (Franco and Polo) in a luxury housing complex (the titular Paradais), this lack of any sort of light relief is a huge risk, and represents a massive artistic accomplishment.

The novel is short, which is to its benefit. Any longer of a trudge through the disgusting minds of these cruel and pathetic protagonists would make Paradais too much to bear. Because in a rather short reading experience, Melchor really manages to pack in every trigger warning under the sun. Approach with caution.

The novel is structured with the end at the beginning. We know something awful has happened, that Polo has made “the worst fucking mistake of his shitty little life,” and then we are led through the steps that got us to this point. This gives the novel a feeling of impending menage, but also enhances this feeling of hopelessness. The worst has already happened, and there’s no point in trying to avoid or change it.

If Polo is pathetic, though, Franco is nothing short of vile. Nicknamed “Fatboy,” he’s depicted “with that formidable belly of his, that rosy face covered in whiteheads and those blond curls… like an overfed cherub; a monstrous manchild.” Franco’s life is consumed with a violent, perversely sexual obsession with his neighbor, Señora Marián.

Franco has money but no potential, living off of his grandparents and spending his days “farting and masturbating.” Polo has nothing, working as a gardener in the complex. Franco manages to convince Polo to hang out with him by buying him alcohol. The two settle into an uneasy routine, getting so drunk that they vomit while Franco reveals the disturbing inner workings of his mind. “That’s why Polo played along, that’s why he nodded away to everything that fatty said, as insane, as preposterous as it was; how the fuck was he supposed to know what the crazy prick would be capable of doing in order to bone that bitch. Who could have known he really meant what he said?”

That the novel manages to maintain such extreme levels of violence, misogyny, homophobia, and disgust while still feeling realistic is a credit to Melchor (and her fantastic translator, Sophie Hughes). It’s an uncomfortable, revolting, and often frightening, read, but nonetheless, a valuable one. “Fatboy was completely crazy about her, and Polo had seen first-hand how for weeks the kid had talked about nothing but screwing her, making her his, whatever it took; the same shit over and over like a broken record, his eyes vacant and bloodshot from the alcohol and his fingers sticky with cheesy powder, which the fat pig only ever licked clean once he’d scoffed the whole jumbo bag of crisps.”

Annie Walton Doyle is a 20-something writer based in Manchester, UK. She typically writes about beauty and other “personal aesthetics,” with a healthy dose of both social commentary and stupidity. When not touching makeup or reading books, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature, and mysteries.

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