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There, and not there | Paradise Rot

The opening of Jenny Hval’s novel Paradise Rot sets the stage for an unsettling, uncanny story of blurred boundaries and a heady sexual awakening in an unfamiliar place.

Jenny Hval19 March 2024

There, and not there | Paradise Rot

There, and not there.

Outside the hostel window the town is hidden by fog.

The pier down below dissolves into the colourless distance, like a bridge into the clouds. At times the fog disperses a little, and the contours of islands appear a little way out to sea. Then they’re gone again. There, not there, there, not there, I whisper, leaning against the window, drumming my fingers against the glass in time with the words, dunk, du-dunk, as if I’m programing a new heartbeat for a new home.

So I sat that first morning in Aybourne, leaning against the windowpane, forehead flat on the glass. My shoulders ached from carrying my backpack. I hadn’t taken it off on the train from the airport. I just stood and held on tight to all my things while strange stations and billboards in bright colours whizzed past. The straps gnawed into my shoulders while I counted the stops to my destination. I studied how people would, instinctively, pull the handle to make the doors open at just the right time. I had tried to absorb the technique before it was my turn to get off, so that no one would realise this was my first time on this train. When the time came, however, I stood by the door and pulled the handle to no effect. A woman in her forties tapped my shoulder – The other side, love – and I just about managed to get off the train in time. After that I stood on the platform for a moment while a stream of rush- hour passengers passed me, like a river parting itself around a small rock.

The trip had been hard. I had too much luggage, my coat was too big, and I had become distressed in the duty-free shop, which was permeated by the smell of sickeningly sweet perfume. In the hostel my body became light and insubstantial, and I imagined that I, too, was being swallowed by fog, that I was dissolving in it. The remnants from my journey lay tossed around me: tickets and promotional leaflets on the table, an English fashion magazine on the bed, salt and pepper packets on the floor. The sound of cars on the street outside and a fly that buzzed under the curtains replaced the echo of that strange voice that had announced doors closing over the train’s loudspeakers.

I closed my eyes. The glass was cold and dry. When I stood up to take a shower, I had left a blurry oil-print on the pane.

The shared bathroom was across the hall. It was a dirty and colourless room with grey-yellow wallpaper and dark carpeted floors. The bathtub’s enamel had faded and grown dull, and when I washed my hands there was no mirror over the sink, only a dark square impres- sion and a rusted screw where a frame once hung. I found the mirror-glass on the cistern behind the toilet bowl, as if someone had used it to watch themself masturbate. Now it reflected my belly and hips, and I stood there like a man and unzipped my trousers with my front facing the toilet bowl. It felt almost strange not to have a dick to pull out through my fly. When I rolled my jeans and pants down my thighs, the dark triangle of pubic hair looked strangely empty, like a half-finished sketch. I turned around, sat down on the toilet seat and looked down between my legs, where a thin stream of urine trickled into the bowl. The dirty-white porcelain was tinged with acrid yellow. Almost a shame to flush away all that colour, I thought.

Afterwards I sat by a corner table in the breakfast hall. Breakfast was nearly over, and a bored waiter was stacking bowls filled with packets of cheese and jam in a refrigerator. A loud group of golfers sat nearby. Some of them had already put on caps and gloves, and they drank their coffee from paper cups with white-gloved hands. Long black golf bags were propped against the wall. The room was emptying and yet it felt full. The smell of the old smoky carpet mingled with the coffee. The sugar cubes in the bowl were covered in dust.

As I stepped out into the street, the morning light broke through the fog, catching on the tram tracks. I followed the tracks to the nearest stop, noting the trash on the pavement, a discarded juice carton and greasy pages of newsprint. My blurred reflection appeared in shop windows beneath unfamiliar English signs: Newsagent, Chemist, Café. When the tram came, that too bore a name I did not recognise, Prestwick Hill

— An edited excerpt from Paradise Rot: A Novel by Jenny Hval, translated by Marjam Idriss.

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Paradise Rot

Paradise Rot

"As intriguing and impressive a novelist as she is a musician, Hval is a master of quiet horror and wonder."Chris Kraus, author of I Love DickJo is in a strange new country for university and havi...

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