Paradise, by Judith McNaught

>> Monday, July 04, 2005

Doing the reader interview for Màili got me thinking about some old favourites, including Paradise, by Judith McNaught. I bought this one back in 1992, on a trip to New York. I was 14 at the time, and though I was already reading romance, I was reading it in spite of the fact that the books I was finding weren't particularly good.

Paradise was a revelation. I had no idea romance novels could be this way, and I adored it. I used to reread it every few months back then, but, for some reason, I hadn't reread it for years before now.

Corporate raider Matthew Farrell had come a long way from the poor, scruffy kid of Indiana's steel mills. A long way from the country club where, feeling like an outsider, he had dared to fall in love with a beautiful blonde named Meredith Bancroft, and known a once-in-a-lifetime passion and betrayal that still haunted his memory...Now world leaders courted him, the media watched his every move, and he was ready to move in on the Bancroft empire.

A cool, poised executive in her family's legendary department store chain, Meredith had once defied her father for the sexually magnetic, intense Matt Farrell -- and their brief, ill-fated marriage was the disastrous outcome. Now, as the Bancroft firm is threatened by a hostile takeover, Meredith is forced to confront Matt. As tensions build between them, bittersweet memories rise to the surface, leaving them suspicious, restless, and uncertain. Will they be able to believe in each other -- and grasp the tender miracle that is before them?
I was half afraid when I started it that I was going to be terribly disappointed by Paradise. So much of what I used to adore hasn't really stood the test of time at all. I needn't have worried. I had a wonderful time reading this. In fact, certain details that I'd had trouble with all those years ago, were just fine this time. It's an A-.

Having reread this so many times before, I remembered quite a bit, even if none of those rereads were recent. I remembered both the characters' personalities and the "big" scenes. Practically all of those big scenes, actually. The scene in which Meredith finds out what really happened all those years ago, the weekend at the cabin when Meredith tells Matt everything, the meeting he calls when they get back, the scene at the restaurant, when Matt and Parker "cross the "T"s", the scene in which they finally confess their love (::sigh:: I remembered that one literally! The part in which Matt does four things to make her feel comfortable... I even remembered each one of those four things). Reading those scenes was like visiting old friends and rediscovering the little details that made me love them.

This is basically a Big Misunderstanding story, but one that works. The misunderstanding is excusable, as it was pretty much manufactured by Meredith's father, and it made sense that she and Matt wouldn't have cleared things up before, basically because they just weren't in touch at all. Once they do get in touch, they both find out the truth pretty fast, right when it was believable that they would. Those scenes are amazingly poignant, enough that they put a lump in my throat.

Matt is a truly wonderful hero, a guy who's strong enough to build an empire and strong enough not to become a bully with it. I loved how even when he thought the worst of Meredith, he was able to put himself in her shoes and think that well, she was young and scared back then, he shouldn't blame her (though he went back and forth with this, to tell the truth). And once he finds out the truth, I loved the way he ruthlessly went after Meredith, refusing to let her go without giving him a chance. That meeting I mentioned, when he proposes a certain deal to her, oh, wow! When he talked to Stuart at the end of it, and his reaction after the meeting was over... I just loved it all!

And as for Meredith, well, daddy issues aside, I really did like her. I did understand what Matt saw in her, which is more than I can say about too many books. I also liked that she was smart and a savvy businesswoman, and I respected the way she confronted her father's and her colleagues' sexism and triumphed over it.

Paradise is a very long book (over 700 pages), and yet I read it in a day. It just sucked me in and I couldn't let go until it was over. I did think the introductory sections, the ones narrating what happened 11 years before, when Matt and Meredith first met, went on for a bit too long. Of course, this might have been because I already knew all that was going to happen and couldn't wait for the "proper" story to get underway.

One of my memories of the book was that the last part was taken over by "boring business stuff", and I always skipped the final 100 or so pages when I reread it. This time I didn't of course, and I really don't see what it was that bothered me so much. There's a tiny suspense subplot that comes to the forefront here, about bomb threats in Bancroft stores and an attempt to take over the company, but I didn't feel it was boring or excessive and I thought it was a wonderful way of showing Meredith really choosing Matt over her father.

I'm happy I decided to take this little trip to the past.

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