This is in essence a strong and compelling novel which, like Forster’s Howard’s End, and, given its Cornwall setting and ending, Du Maurier’s Rebecca, has at its centre a wonderfully depicted passionate, almost incestuous, attachment to a house, in this case Eden, co-owned by the book’s sixteen-year-old protagonist, Evie. She exhibits an equally strong obsession for Bea, her older cousin, who before her escape to drama school seduces Evie’s only ever boy-friend, fatally fracturing their relationship. In college Bea is torn between the advances of Northern working-class James/Seamus and the philandering upper-class Penn. Her maturation and ultimate fate are mirrored in the tragedies in which she appears – Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet.
In contrast, Eden’s role as a refuge from the adult world is implied by the numerous references to spheres in children’s classics, Wonderland, Neverland and Narnia, for instance. Evie is symbolically ripped from an innocence to which she tenaciously clings by a cruel fiction, resulting in the loss of all she holds dear. Her expulsion from Eden, both literally and figuratively, forces her to embrace a wider world.
Despite its undoubted strengths, Eden has glaring weaknesses. Nadin’s portrayal of the working-class – and the Irish – is clichéd and crude (an interesting defect considering the author’s political speechwriting). James’s father is one-dimensionally ignorant and brutish, his trousers held up by twine. Despite each chapter heading insisting that the time setting is 1987/8, all indications – depiction of class, literary allusions and portrayal of adolescent sexuality – are redolent of an earlier period.