Book Review: Fool’s Paradise

Fools Paradise

Fool’s Paradise, by Zoe Brooks, is a poem for voices that was first performed in 1992 and published by White Fox Books. This reissue has recently been released by Black Eyes Publishing. The monoprint used on the cover of the book was created by Hannah Kodicek, a late friend of the author who she accompanied to Prague immediately after the Velvet Revolution, a visit that proved a major inspiration for this work.

There are four key voices in the poem – three travellers and a fool they meet at a crossroads on their journey. The fool is accompanied by his dog and becomes the travellers’ guide.

“Perhaps your country
was never mapped
for target practice,
your timetables never structured
for the movement of troops”

The journey is divided into four parts followed by an epilogue. The story being told is opaque and dreamlike, yet it provides a vivid account of the confusion and loss to be borne in the aftermath of conflict. Between the lines, questions are being asked about how it all happened, why the people acquiesced to their leader’s demands.

“The madman leads the blind”

The travellers make their way to a city, fearful of meeting militia, remembering their lives before they became exiles. On reaching the city they observe not just the shadows so many people have become but also the damage wreaked on infrastructure – and continuing danger. They lament their personal losses, including small talismans that are all that remain of their before.

“I have forgotten the taste of bread,
I am forgetting that I ever lived.”

Interactions between characters are riddle-like which brings to the fore how traumatic enforced exile can be – the internal scars caused. The travellers are tired to the bone yet sleep brings no relief. When separated from the fool they dream of him – the boundaries with reality quiver and blur. They observe people held in a cage, remaining there despite the padlock on the gate being open. Perhaps they have forgotten how to take the initiative after their willingness to follow.

The final section, titled Hell and Back, portrays an aftermath in which the fool returns and grey souls are observed, one of whom is ‘that man who held the world in chains’.

“At the brush of his pen, millions died.
At the sweep of his arm
babies burned”

Traveller 1   Why does he weep?

Traveller 2   For conquest lost perhaps or lust unserved.

Fool             No, he weeps for paintings he did not paint.”

The epilogue is a looking back. All has changed and yet the experience remains seared within.

It is clear that this poem would provide the basis for a powerful performance. Reading it demands pauses and rereads to peel back layers and consider what is implied within each conversation. The dreamlike structure and language add a dark beauty to what is an horrific ordeal that too many are forced to endure due to power hungry leaders. It is a reminder of the lasting cost of oppression and exile, and that supposed victory is not lasting.

“You say that you have gone back to the city and all is changed, that the angels are gone, the candles extinguished, that the bridge is lined with trinket vendors and all is turned into pettiness.”

A disturbing yet deeply thought-provoking read, written with succinct perspicacity. The voices in this poem deserve to be heard.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

Book Review: What Will Remain


What Will Remain, by Dan Clements, is ‘a war novel born out of the author’s own experiences of serving with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan’. It is visceral writing. The opening pages left me feeling punched in the gut, as I did watching the opening sequence of the film Saving Private Ryan. It is uncompromising and stunningly portrayed.

Told in the first person, the book consists of a series of vignettes which bring to life the daily challenges faced by foot soldiers serving on the front line of a battlefield far from all they have previously known. The men are on patrol, under attack, holed up in camps, coping with the death and disfigurement of comrades. There is fear, exhaustion, boredom and necessary camaraderie. This is no boy’s own flavour of war. Life on both sides of the conflict is debased.

Soldiers are trained to follow orders over instinct. Their mindsets must be altered to overcome primordial, life preserving fear. Once this has been achieved it is little wonder that they return home damaged. To move on they may need to put those they experienced such hell with aside. The shared memories can bring back unbearable pain.

“there are only these pieces left to me, scattered and disordered and incomplete, troubled orphan memories that find no solace in the grand old stories.”

The foot soldiers are directed by officers, disparaged by many for their remove from deadly action. When an act of heroism is picked out as worthy of honour, discomfort is felt. The hollow proclamations of the world mean little beside “every small and careful and honest thing that truly was accomplished, and at such awful cost.” If a soldier accepts a public honour must he also accept authorship of the rest?

Mention is made of how the Afghans treat their women, expecting them to stay at home to serve their husband and family. Afghan men have no qualms about claiming the right to beat their wives. I found it ironic that the soldiers valued their pornography and gifted each other posters of topless women with large breasts. They too regarded females as objects existing for their gratification.

Yet how can we who have never been made to experience war judge how those on the front line should behave? If their actions appear degenerate is it them or what they are forced to endure? By the end of the book the protagonist has returned to England, first to recuperate from injury and then to rejoin society. These later stories demonstrate how hard such adjustments can be.

The war poets express the futility of such conflicts. This tale brings home the mental as well as physical damage caused to individuals who chose to fight for their country, perhaps not understanding what soldiering would entail. Families who took pride in their partner or offspring’s achievements struggle to deal with them once returned. To cope the soldiers must try to forget.

“As a child you know nothing. As an adolescent you know everything. And the rest of your life is that slow, difficult process of unlearning all those things you once thought you knew.”

A searing depiction of war that challenges the popular notion of bravery. This is a challenging and captivating read.