Monday, 3 November 2014

Paradise by Judith McNaught

Paradise (1991) (Pocket Books)
Judith McNaught
Grade: A
Genre: contemporary romance / light suspense
Sex scenes: mild
Source: own
Second Opportunities: (1) Paradise, (2) Perfect
Romance RBC 2014: A classic romance

Young Meredith Bancroft should have it all: heiress to the Bancroft & Company empire that is Chicago’s biggest and most loved department store, she’s at the best schools and should have access to everything she desires. But her jealous and controlling father is convinced that Meredith is destined to follow in her lying and cheating mother’s footsteps, and he’s determined to oversee every aspect of her life in order to prevent this, stealing her childhood in the process. It isn’t until Lisa Pontini joins Meredith’s school that she learns what it’s like to have a true friend.

Fast-forward to graduation and Meredith is in a bitter fight with her father about what college she’ll be attending. She’s determined to get a sound business degree which will allow her to eventually take up the reins at Bancroft & Company, but her father wants her to follow her grandmother’s path and attend little more than a fancy finishing school. One night at their exclusive members’ club, Meredith is charmed and intrigued by outsider Matthew Farrell, a steelworker who has been brought to the club for less-than-honest purposes. Nevertheless, Meredith sees something of her former lonely self in Matt and decides to befriend him. Threats from her father lead Meredith to act impulsively and the scorching kiss she shared with Matt further than she would have otherwise intended, leading to a hasty marriage. With Philip Bancroft doing his best to tear them apart, their marriage is followed by a hostile and devastating divorce.

Eleven years later and there’s no doubt that Matt has left the man he was, far behind. He’s built up his company Intercorp, from nothing and his brief marriage to Meredith Bancroft is little more than an erroneous blip in his past. Meredith has worked tirelessly to earn her place on the executive board at Bancroft & Company, though she’s constantly challenged by her father and the board of directors, all questioning her management capabilities as a female. When Meredith discovers to her horror that her divorce was not legally executed, she’s forced to confront Matt and work cooperatively in wading through the mess that is their relationship. As the deception that forced them apart is revealed, both must learn to trust and even love again …

Judith McNaught’s Paradise is (in my opinion) her biggest success. It doesn’t hold the notoriety of Whitney, My Love and a fair number of other romance readers must agree with me, as it made the top of all her listed entries in the 2004, 2010 and 2013 AAR Top 100 Romance polls (highest placing: 16th,). I don’t know why I read Perfect first (a completely arbitrary decision, without considering or possibly even realising that they were both part of the same series), but I’m glad I did, otherwise I would have undoubtedly been super disappointed to discover that book 2 was nowhere near as good. I love Paradise – so much that I’m sorely tempted to read it again, cover-to-cover, and would start immediately if I didn’t have half my RBC 2014 challenge to finish and 3/4 to review, desperately before the close of the year.

Matt is a huge alpha male AND an asshole hero to boot, though he thankfully falls just short of being an alphole hero. He and Meredith are so cute as their 18 and 26-year-old selves – still innocent with the whole world before them, yet not yet as jaded as they should be, despite the setbacks and hurdles they’ve already experienced. Meredith’s father deliberately and maliciously sabotages their marriage, forcing them apart based on a simple misunderstanding and deception. Understandably, they’re both bitter even after 11 years, having never heard the other side’s story. Meredith’s pain particularly is heart-breaking and I was ready to see Matt on his knees, grovelling and begging for her forgiveness. He didn’t go that far (of course this wasn’t going to happen) but I was pretty convinced by some of his actions and words.

Meredith is inspiring as a businesswoman and entrepreneur, and I’m glad that Judith McNaught didn’t slack in making Meredith’s role at Bancroft & Company part of her very identity. It might sound sad or workaholic or obsessive of her, but Meredith has grown up with a very strong sense of her heritage. Her father might have drained all the fun and spontaneity out of her childhood, but he’s the one who instilled her love for the store and tattooed the name on her heart. Even more than 20 years later, it’s depressing how little has changed about the role of women in boardrooms. Meredith is fully aware about how her colleagues treat her as a result of her sex and strives to prove them wrong, however difficult they might make her life.

Paradise is definitely dated in the context of the twenty-first century, but I never found it an issue. Being Judith McNaught, it’s a dense book (my edition was 709 pages) and while some parts dragged a bit as the pace dropped, you’re kept hooked every page of the way. The suspense was a little un-climatic and obvious, but it’s more of a sideline to the story as I was only interested in watching Meredith and Matthew’s romance unfold the second time round. This is definitely a book I’ll be returning to, again and again.

Image courtesy of Wordery.

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