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I really enjoyed Ellen Sussman's novel French Lessons last year, so when I was asked to be a part of her 2013 blog tour for her new book The Paradise Guest House, I jumped at the chance. When I read that it was based around the Bali bombings which took place in 2002, I was quite curious because I have to admit that while I had of course heard of the attack, I didn't know all that much about it as I was only 16 when it had happened, and didn't remember much about it, besides the horrible images that were shown across the media at that time. I hoped that it wouldn't be too hard of a read, but I needn't have worried because it was utterly beautiful novel that I read in just 2 days because I didn't want to stop reading.
Jamie first comes to Bali in 2002, where she is researching trips as part of her job as an adventure guide. Jamie loves adventure and thrill-seeking, travelling the world with her job, and meeting lots of exciting people along the way. But when she finds in the middle of the Bali bombings, Jamie is injured but meets mysterious stranger Gabe who rescues her from the disaster. A year later, Jamie is invited to take part in a memorial for those involved in the bombings, and bravely makes her way back to Bali, also intent on finding Gabe again to thank him and perhaps open her heart to him once more. Will Jamie find the closure she is desperately searching for in visiting Bali once more?
The first thing I want to say about this novel is how beautifully Sussman writes. I have never been to Bali, but thanks to Sussman's descriptions and the way she has of bringing the place to life on the pages, I feel like I can see all of the places Jamie visits in my mind, and I really loved that. She makes it sound like paradise, and exposes the culture, the people and the general feeling of Bali perfectly. Sussman goes into some amazing detail of the night of the bombings from Jamie and Gabe's points of view, and this allows you to really understand their characters and what happened that night. It's almost frightening to read, you know what is happening and how petrifying it must have been, and everything is so well described you can visualise everything that is going on. It isn't easy to read these parts of the novel but it's so compulsive, you just can't put the book down.
I enjoyed the way Sussman writes the novel, beginning in the present day i.e. 2003, one year after the bombings when Jamie has made the decision to revisit Bali despite her fears. After a while, it then jumps back a year, detailing what happened the night of the bombings and in the days after when Jamie and Gabe were recovering and got to know each other. Once more, it goes back again to the 2003 story to finish the book, and I found this was a really good way of writing, and I found it to be a joy to read. I really loved the characters of Jamie and Gabe, you care about them as people and thought they were both so brave, especially Jamie - I certainly couldn't have revisited the site of so much pain and suffering just a year on. Gabe was a damaged soul himself, and as things are revealed about him, you understand why he is as he is in the book. I also enjoyed reading the storyline of the Paradise Guest House, where Jamie stays with a Balinese man who lost his wife in the bombings, and just added yet another layer to this already amazing book.
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading The Paradise Guest House. It was a totally absorbing read, and while it was emotional and hard to read in parts, I was totally lost in it from start to finish. At just over 250 pages, it isn't a long novel. Sussman wastes no times with long narratives and descriptions, instead getting straight into the action of the novel and for me this made it all the better. Her descriptions of Bali and the fateful night of the bombings were so good, you feel every emotion along with the characters and are desperate for a happy ending for them. The emotions in the book are so well written, and I praise Sussman highly for how she makes the reader feel as you become gripped by the novel. It's beautifully written, and is a book that will stay with me for a long time, certainly a must read.
ISBN: 978-1472102249. Published by Canvas on March 21st 2013. Pages: 272. RRP: £6.99. Also available as an eBook.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review, and to you for reading.