This week, the arrival of this small, slightly tattered paperback was heralded with great fanfare around these parts, if by fanfare, you mean yelling at the cats to get out from underfoot as I tore the package open in a frenzy while walking into the kitchen. Here are the reasons why:
1. How freaking amazing is this cover? Remember? Remember when books had covers like this? When the characters inside your favorite steamy novel were brought to life with the wild sense of color and coy literalism typically attributed to artists like Patrick Nagel. Of course, this was a pre-Photo Shop era – the mid 80’s – when most movie posters looked like this!
When being a celebrity meant you had the privilege of routinely being transformed into a giant plasticine version of yourself so flawless and blemish-free, it looked as if raindrops could pool atop the high, prominent cheekbones of your painted likeness for a full five minutes before their combined weight would cause them to slide down the sides of your face in shiny, unabsorbed rivers. But on the covers of mass market paperbacks, this treatment was given to gorgeous, imaginary people in lavish and preposterous circumstances, and that makes it all the more wonderful and delicious and reminiscent of a time when the best desk phones were advertised as having “9 foot long curly handset chords!”
2. RETURN TO EDEN was the basis for one of the first “epic, sweeping, sprawling, sensuous” television mini-series I can remember watching with my family (i.e. my mother, after my father politely left the room to go worry about something while he sketched.) The plot in a nutshell: A wealthy heiress falls in love with and marries a handsome tennis pro. In order to get her fortune, the tennis pro feeds the heiress to a bunch of crocodiles. Unbeknownst to him, the crocodiles fail to complete the task. (Are Australian crocodiles unionized? Maybe they didn’t get paid.) And theeeeennn, wealthy heiress survives, and thanks to the dutiful (and absolutely ridiculous and totally impossible but totally amazing) work of a sympathetic plastic surgeon, is completly transformed into a beauty so beautiful she can bring about an end to all treacherous beauties. Hence, the return to Eden part of RETURN TO EDEN.
3. The scene in which one of Eden’s housekeepers realizes the heiress has returned with a new face and a new body (and in the mini-series version, a new actress) affected me so deeply I routinely act it out in my living room, which is challenging because it involves a horse. (I refuse to write about it until I have a chance to read (and see) it again. I want to make sure I didn’t imagine it. Maybe it was a moose instead of a horse. I don’t know. Do they have mooses in Australia? And what’s the plural of moose? Moosi? Meese**?)
4. Rosalind Miles, the novel’s author, appears to be, or at least believes herself to be, a more “serious novelist” now, as evidenced by her website, which includes one of the longest and most detailed author bios I’ve ever seen, and which also makes clear that her Australian Quartet, of which RETURN TO EDEN is the first hefty installment, are the only four of her books which are currently out of print (and by print, I also mean e-book editions.) Hence, this slightly browned used paperback I had to order from Barry’s Bargain Bin.
*If you’re scratching your head over the title of this post, allow me to explain. The subheading on the back of the book reads, “Every paradise has its serpent..” And I’d post a picture of it but I have to actually go work on writing that might get me a paycheck now.
**This joke is actually stolen from VICE VERSA, a 1988 comedy in which Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage play a father and son who switch places. While also made in the 80’s, it is not anywhere near as fun and amazing as RETURN TO EDEN as there are no scenes involving crocodiles and plastic surgeons.