Frances astutely sketches a man both magnetic and odious, sometimes simultaneously charming and a total drag ... Frances is a rather listless contemporary heroine ... Through Frances’ idolization of Paul, the less starry-eyed reader encounters a deadpan appraisal of how convincingly fetishization can masquerade as virtue ... I experienced a mild current of dread for Frances as she bobbed along, distant and alien to herself, in exile from her life as she silently accompanies Paul on a jaunt across the French countryside ... Lafarge is deft at mapping the arc of Frances’ shifting perception of her object of study, as her fascination with Paul curdles slowly, and then rapture turns to disgust all at once. Racing through the book toward the big reveal, guided by Lafarge’s sustained, brooding tension, the reader starts to suspect Frances has been the one with the power all along.
Lafarge introduces early on in the text the concept of geomagnetic reversal – a sudden switch in the planet’s magnetic field that takes place 'every half million years or so', which Paul’s neighbour predicts will occur imminently. The novel sets up a similar magnetic transferral ... A fissure opens up between the narratorial and authorial perspective, between Frances’s awed perception of her host and the grim reality of his character – his inflated pride, his cruelty, the mysterious void at the centre of his life ... Paul has a neat, intuitive structure. There are three discrete sections, each lasting a week ... Its plot is light and fast-moving: Lafarge introduces into the text a multitude of distinctive characters, locations and events ... The novel gains density, though, through mythical allusion, historical parallels and rich, complex imagery ... In this beautifully constructed novel, it is only a matter of time before the truth comes out, the magnetic poles reversing once more.
The novel is a gripping but painful read ... The story of a bright young woman ensnared by an older man is a familiar one. Poet Daisy Lafarge tells it well, in hypnotic prose, laced with the buzzing of insects, the burning of hot sun, the intensity of the man. It is a sensuous pleasure to read as this gaslit woman first loses, then slowly regains, her voice.
In this intelligent and subtle novel, an atmosphere both eerie and summery is the backdrop for her disturbing psychological undoing ... In her debut, Daisy Lafarge unsettles brilliantly. The writing is crisp and elegant, the sentences both vivid and precise. There is a timelessness, a sort of folk-horror aspect ... That said, the book also feels part of a modern trend for novels on toxic relationships and broken heterosexuality ... Lafarge invokes and plays with the tropes of the Gothic ... Lafarge also seems to draw on the spiralling structure of Jean Rhys’s narratives, in which the narrator becomes increasingly lost to the reader as the novel continues. Objectification seems to result in a metaphorical and psychological process of becoming-object ... Though at first Lafarge leaves Frances’ relationship with AB hazy, she knows just when to deliver the pieces of the jigsaw. The narrator’s instability is complex and well handled ... The possible endings of the book are kept in abeyance throughout, partly through the mainly present-tense narration. Split into three parts, with chapters named for days of the week, an initial crescendo gives way to reflection, and then onwards to a new and disturbing tenor of violence ... With an intelligence lightly worn, this is an immersive, maddening, unsettling read.
Larfarge uses the thoroughly contemporary story of a traumatized graduate on her European gap year to boldly reinterpret Gauguin’s life and legacy. By reconstructing one of the giants of the artistic canon as an irredeemable villain, the novel makes it impossible to separate the art from the artist. The titular character, Paul, an evocation of Gauguin, is so obviously reprehensible that we are forced to condemn him—and thus Gauguin himself, by extension. What, Paul asks us, is so fundamentally valuable about the artist’s work that we continue to view, sell, and celebrate it more than a century later? ... It’s not entirely satisfying as a resolution––Paul receives no meaningful comeuppance. Wisely, though, Lafarge leaves the central question of the novel open. Should we look, or should we look away?
The novel explores how a certain feminine, British polite passivity can be taken advantage of, as Frances silently goes along with things other people want and expect of her. Lafarge underpins her heroine’s drift with a convincing sense of helpless inevitability ... In truth, the blank, detached, listlessly glassy-eyed female protagonist feels a little wearyingly overfamiliar in contemporary fiction, but Paul is a worthy addition to the genre ... Lafarge is also strong on the heady, time-stretching disorientation of travelling itself – of being plunged into situations, and struggling to figure them out; of being reliant on the kindness of strangers, and wondering what they might expect in return. She writes about the lush landscape and heat of the south of France with a sensual elegance and sense of foreboding that can verge on precious, but her debut is also highly readable – this novel draws you in as surely as Paul ensnares Frances.
One new addition to the sanctimony canon is Daisy Lafarge’s Paul: a neat, Netflix-worthy debut which follows the liaison between Frances, a 21-year-old English backpacker, and her eponymous host ... Their dysfunctional relationship becomes the vehicle for a series of authorial propositions that are both unobjectionable and unoriginal: patriarchy is bad; intergenerational romance can be exploitative; amateur ethnography is often Orientalizing; eco-farmers may have fascist inclinations ... Paul is supposed to be a contemporary reimagining of Paul Gauguin, but beyond some shared biographical details, the comparison barely holds. He is a peg for Lafarge on which to hang her ethical dictums ... The problem isn’t exactly one of verisimilitude: the real world is teeming with such self-parodies of masculinity ... The real question is whether such people can be turned into subtle, or interesting, or surprising protagonists ... At bottom, this novel’s function is didactic: it sets out to teach us that Paul is not a nice guy. At 300 pages, the lesson is long ... Lafarge misses an opportunity to confront the deeper questions raised by Frances’s story. Aside from a vaguely delineated Electra complex, what are the reasons for someone like her sticking with someone like Paul? ... There are moments when Lafarge stops trying to instruct us and instead lingers on the landscape ... Such descriptive passages prove that, at its least instrumental, Daisy Lafarge’s language can be both emotionally resonant and politically engaged. Perhaps her next novel will demonstrate this talent more comprehensively.
Arresting ... Whatever is the opposite of a beach read, Paul is it ... The atmosphere becomes steadily worse, and Lafarge ratchets up the discomfort until it is nigh-on unbearable. When Frances does at last find her voice, the reader is gulping for air right alongside her ... There are echoes of Rachel Cusk throughout: Lafarge is entirely in control of her material, and unafraid to go dark. It is uneasy reading, but it is visceral, too, a white-knuckle ride not because of any attendant thrills and spills but because the tension is perpetually on the brink of boiling, and then boiling over.
Paul’s strength is in the insidiousness of its titular character, perfectly balanced by the malleability of its protagonist, and her willingness to identify herself through others’ eyes ... It’s these moments where Lafarge’s writing really shines, Paul’s grin is as bright as Frances’ anger, as vivid as the waitress’ bafflement. Language is such an important part of the novel ... Lafarge’s writing is cleverly structured, matching Frances’ hopeful, miles-wide view of the Pyrénées in the bright sun becoming narrower as the narrative descends to a darker storyline, with later scenes going so far as to take place in the pitch black, under a tarpaulin older than Frances is, the only shelter from a raging storm. Essentially a novel about a toxic relationship, Paul’s many layers of imbalance cover language and voice, complicity, age, and life experience.
Carefully structured and at times an uncomfortable read, the book has shades of Sally Rooney’s hit novels Normal People and Conversations With Friends. Just as it feels that Frances will not be able to escape Paul’s hold on her, Lafarge offers a sliver of hope for the fight against the patriarchy. Despite her vulnerability, it turns out that even Frances has a line that can’t be crossed.
Timid ... LaFarge confidently evokes the various settings, though often in a way that feels simultaneously heavy-handed and ethereal ... There’s more symbolism in descriptions of cathedrals and murals, but the connections don’t fuse to the story of Paul or illuminate Frances. This shows promise, but it doesn’t quite cohere.