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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Trouble in Paradise

by
Pierre Boulle


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Trouble in Paradise



Title: Trouble in Paradise
Author: Pierre Boulle
Genre: Novel
Written: 1979 (Eng. 1985)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Trouble in Paradise - US
Trouble in Paradise - Canada
Les Coulisses du ciel - France
  • French title: Les coulisses du ciel
  • Translated by Patricia Wolf

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Our Assessment:

C : some fun ideas and scenes, but an uncomfortable mix of theological-philosophical debate and light entertainment

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       If nothing else, Pierre Boulle could almost always be counted on to start a work of fiction with an ambitious and creative premise -- something really big, usually. Trouble in Paradise certainly doesn't disappoint in that regard -- it's about nothing less than the domestic disputes up in Heaven, that Holy Trinity not getting along as a Supreme Being might be expected to -- but it does disappoint in most others.
       Boulle has a decent idea, but he already has trouble getting it started, and is reduced to setting things in motion by holding ... a séance. It has to be taken seriously, and so among the participants are the astrophysicist Marcole, representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches, and, among a few others, the French head of state, President Dumont-Gayol. No surprise, it turns out to be a very effective séance: the Holy Spirit itself appears, and he has some bad news:

The misfortune that has been infecting the climate of heaven for ages is this: the Father and Son don't get along anymore.
       God apparently isn't thrilled by the whole trinity-concept -- he's the Almighty etc., after all -- but this deification of the kid has really caught on on earth (and it really went Jesus' head when he came back home), and this struggle -- not so much for power, but for ego-boosting acknowledgement -- is causing all sorts of troubles.
       The Holy Spirit comes down to earth looking for advice, but his ethereal form limits what he can do. Not so Mary, who also shows up at the séance. She has a body -- and she's quick on the uptake (picking up French almost immediately) and a real people-pleaser, so she's ideally suited (once they've dressed her up right, and done her hair) to mingle and get a real feel for attitudes on earth.
       Boulle isn't quite sure where he wants to take this, and he doesn't make the greatest choices. How to top a séance ? how about a cocktail party ? The Holy Spirit wants to hear what people are thinking, and so they organise a Platonic dialogue, of sorts -- but, being up-to-date, it's not an Agathon-banquet-style affair, but a cocktail party. But Boulle takes it pretty seriously, and one by one (more or less) the guests offer their brief takes on the problem, from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives, among others. It's so bizarre, it's almost riveting -- and, at least, mercifully short -- but won't satisfy many readers.
       Stranger still are Mary's adventures. She really takes to earth and, being without sin, feels she can do no wrong (becoming quite full of herself in the process). But she goes over real well - and soon decides she knows exactly how to solve matters: it's she who has been neglected in this whole Trinity-thing. Soon enough she's running for the presidency of France, and after that there's only one more realm to take over .....
       Trouble in Paradise moves fast but not quite furiously enough. The ideas are entertaining and potentially interesting, but Boulle's haphazard plotting --and his insistence on pseudo-serious theological-philosophical debate (but only of the most cursory sort) -- make for a bumpy ride. It reads as though he had been in a great rush to get these ideas down on the page, and wasn't very concerned with making the story in any way plausible (on the level he's playing at) or even particularly coherent. A competent enough writer to almost get away with it, he doesn't quite here: Trouble in Paradise remains nearly all potential and almost no execution, what appeal it has being found entirely in it's oddness (and it is stunningly odd from beginning to end).

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Links:

Pierre Boulle: Other books by Pierre Boulle under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pierre Boulle (1912-1994) is best known as the author of Planet of the Apes and The Bridge over the River Kwai

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