A love of Angels
Cees Nooteboom’s Lost Paradise tells of an accidental meeting between two former lovers and is written in a postmodern style full of references to creation in general and the creation of this story in particular. In the first part of the novel, the reader travels the world with two young Brazilian women, Almut and Alma. The latter is trying to come to terms with a traumatic rape. She believes she has found paradise, or at least a semblance of it, in Australia. She becomes obsessed with an aboriginal artist whose paintings are as inaccessible to her as the painter himself; he is one representative of paradise lost.
Then, to earn some money, the two friends take part in a literary festival in Perth where, in honour of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, several angels are to be ‘hidden’. Alma, dressed in an angel’s costume including wings, has to hide in a cupboard in an office.
The second part of the novel tackles the mid-life crisis of a literary critic in his late forties, Erik Zondag. Sour and fat, he is married to a much younger woman who sends him on a spa holiday in Austria. There, he is massaged by a woman who appears to be the angel with whom he once shared an almost mythical experience in Perth. This comforting, yet fatal meeting makes a real reunion impossible.
The simple conclusion to a complicated love story is that angels don’t belong with humans. No writer but Nooteboom can write so well about ecstasy, about the frustration of grasping onto something doomed to disappear or the unwillingness to resign oneself to an inescapable farewell. ‘We wouldn’t and couldn’t understand’, Alma says of her obsession with Aboriginal art, ‘It was both an abstract and physical reality.’ Something similar is true for this novel, which is as light and ungraspable as a poem, yet seems to be about everything in life, including the fall from grace.