Max Easton’s Paradise Estate is a variation of the share-house drama typified by Monkey Grip, Helen Garner’s account of communal living in Melbourne.
Paradise Estate, in contrast to Garner’s post-hippie novel, deals with the problems of modern rental housing: skyrocketing rents, an abundance of tenants, and a lack of suitable abodes.
Many of the Monkey Grip generations traded in their collective flower-power ideals to achieve individual gains through property investments. The economy of today is geared towards those who are already established in the housing industry. Long-term rental has become a norm for many, and owning a home is no longer merely a dream but purely an illusion.
Easton’s witty novel shows little bitterness towards those who have profited from Australia’s housing industry evolving into Darwinian survival.
The novel acknowledges that home ownership has become out of reach for many. Still, Easton’s focus is on the lives and histories of the “vibrant characters” who live in the rundown sharehouse that Sunny calls “Paradise Estate”, a reference to the song of the British post-punk group Television Personalities.
Helen is the character that mediates the household dynamics. She also appeared in Easton’s first novel, The Magpie Wing (2020). Helen, a recently separated gay woman, moves into Paradise Estate in her late 30s. Her single status motivates her to fill a four-bedroom apartment in Hurlstone Park, a suburb in Sydney.
Helen’s only way to secure the rental is by pointing out all its faults to prospective renters. It is particularly dreary, surrounded by apartments. Easton’s novel emphasizes the tensions that arise from a concentrated lifestyle, which, for many people, is not a temporary option but rather a permanent one.
High-density housing evokes Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, a 1954 film that explores voyeurism through the protagonist’s use of a telephoto camera. It also produces Roman Polanski’s cult classic The Tenant from 1976, which dramatizes the paranoia of a lodger who is subjected to intrusive surveillance by his neighbors.
Paradise Estate, while not a Hitchcock horror or a Polanski thriller, is aware of its central family’s “stage-like visibility.” This is a novel in which “seeing” has been doubled. Easton’s characters, while being watched by their neighbors, are also scrutinized by us as readers who oversee the entire drama.
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Humor and shared grief
Sunny’s attempt to entertain his housemates and their friends with a loud punk tune in the backyard is a source of humor.
Alice was horrified as Sunny pulled the drop sheet […]. It revealed the drum set Sunny had promised not to use and two amps towering over the people seated cross-legged in front of them. The squealing guitar amp began at 10 pm […] This drew neighbors to their balconies […] As four police officers marched along the side of the home.
Sunny is a character with many facets and is addressed by the pronoun they. Easton does not declare or announce Sunny’s nonbinary status. It’s just part of the fabric that is the shared house and, by extension, a novel that highlights the many identities and relationships.
Sunny and Helen’s friendship is of particular importance. Both characters are united by their grief over the death of Helen and Sunny’s former lover, Walt, Helen’s brother.
Sunny’s motivation is to preserve Walt’s revolutionary ideas, which are based on a punk sensibility that has largely disappeared. Sunny is so impressed by Walt’s revolutionary ideas that they compare him to Mark Fisher. Mark Fisher was a respected K-punk blogger who had a range of analytical analyses ranging from music theory to politics.
Mark Fisher. MACBA, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Easton’s writing is sharp and witty, with an energizing effect. However, the comment on music extends the allusion (which was also made in a blurb on the back cover). The passages that attempt to explore the political views of the characters by looking at their aesthetic tastes lack Fisher’s complexity. They can also feel forced.
Sunny and Walt discuss optimism and the American rapper Cardi B in a crucial conversation. Walt suggests that the introduction of Top 40 into rock clubs in the late 1970s undermined punk’s “underground.” Sunny jokes: “That is just 2019’s way of saying, ‘Disco Sucks.'”
The term “disco suckers” is racial, sexist, and has homophobic overtones. According to British music journalist Alex Petridis, “disco was dominated by women stars, and had a core audience which was, initially, predominantly gay.” Fisher would not have been pleased with this sort of casual allusion to a backlash that was aimed at a vital musical and social movement.