Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023. Full of lyricism and power, Paul Harding's spellbinding novel celebrates the hopes, dreams and resilience of those deemed not to fit in a world brutally intolerant of difference
Inspired by historical events, This Other Eden tells the story of Apple Island: an enclave off the coast of the United States where castaways - in flight from society and its judgment - have landed and built a home.
In 1792, formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey arrives on the island with his Irish wife, Patience, to make a life together there. More than a century later, the Honeys’ descendants remain, alongside an eccentric, diverse band of neighbours.
Then comes the intrusion of ‘civilization’: officials determine to ‘cleanse’ the island. A missionary schoolteacher selects one light-skinned boy to save. The rest will succumb to the authorities’ institutions - or cast themselves on the waters in a new Noah’s Ark…
About the AuthorPaul Harding attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studied English, and has taught writing at Harvard University and the University of Iowa
Based on a relatively unknown true story, Paul Harding’s heartbreakingly beautiful novel transports us to a unique island community scrabbling a living. The panel were moved by the delicate symphony of language, land and narrative that Harding brings to bear on the story of the islanders— The Booker Prize 2023 judges
I absolutely love writing without having any idea of what comes next. I love having no plan beyond an initial image or tone or sense of atmosphere and just letting everything that comes over the wire into the manuscript, at least for the first couple years or so. I love observing the phenomenon of what physicists call ‘emergence’, where the form of the book, plot, characters takes shape through a process I guess I’d liken to musical improvisation. I love the sense of being the story’s amanuensis.
Months will go by during which, to all appearances, I’m napping on the couch. Really, I’m writing – riding the updrafts as I like to think of it, letting what I’ve written and what I’ve read and looked at and listened to percolate and simmer together. Then, there will be a sudden burst of activity, like you say.
I type, write in longhand, whatever means is convenient whenever a sentence or phrase or word occurs to me. This Other Eden was without exaggeration mostly written on Post-it notes. They’d sort of end up shingling the living room and study and office and I’d periodically scrape them up and tape or staple or transcribe them into notebooks and eventually type them into the big manuscript document. I’m like a magpie; I pick up whatever shiny or colourful bit of language that catches my attention and throw it into the kettle. I love seeing how elements that seem disparate implicate themselves with one another over the years.
Read the full interview here
‘It’s rare to encounter a work of historical fiction that is at once so lyrical and so empathetic.
‘While many readers will be struck by Harding’s inimitable voice, many more will also be drawn to his beautifully etched portraits of the inhabitants of Apple Island.
‘Though set in the past, it’s impossible to ignore the novel’s contemporary resonance, especially in its exploration of how those in power, convinced of their righteousness, abuse others whose identities and way of life don’t conform to their own.’