According to David Lodge’s chapter on Mystery in The Art of Fiction, the questions that arise in the reader as a result of the effect of suspense and enigma/mystery are the “mainsprings of narrative interest,” which is one of the long-lasting techniques used in the art of storytelling (Lodge, 31). Mystery can take place in many forms and be found in a wide variety of genres including, but not limited to, traditional romance, classic detective stories, etc. The Paradise of the Blind uses an unsolved mystery throughout the novel in which clues regarding the present problem take up most of the plot, in order to keep readers interested.
Lodge mentions that there are two types of approaches for mystery in novels: a solved mystery and an unsolved mystery. Many classical novels and plays have mysteries that are resolved at the end and are therefore reassuring to readers. However, modern literary novelists avoid a ‘happily ever after’ ending, and instead tend to lean towards ambiguity and an unresolved mystery. Clues and hints are found throughout the novel, with arguments regarding the conflict usually taking up more space than the problem itself. Sometimes a mystery of an event may result in a tragedy (Lodge, 34).
In the Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong, the overarching problem (i.e. Hang’s response to Uncle Chinh) is not addressed, but rather, filled with a collection of spontaneous memories from Hang’s childhood (the narrator). Hang is on a trip to Russia after receiving a note from her Uncle Chinh stating that he was very ill and asked for her to come immediately (Huong, 11). On her ride, she has many flashbacks that refer more to her past than the present, and recalls all the memories of her childhood, including bad ones of her uncle. As a result, one wonders why Hang is responding to Uncle Chinh’s plea, even after he caused so much harm to Hang and her family.
In relation to the Lodge chapter, mystery is maintained throughout the novel through the use of “hints, clues, and puzzling data” (Lodge, 33). It occupies more textual space than the present given conflict. Lodge defines mystery as an element used in many forms of art, in order to keep the reader or viewer interested in the plot. Since Hang’s memories are not in chronological order, one may question events that occur and try to connect different times of her life together. An example of this kind of mystery is regarding Hang’s father. Hang does not know her father, except for what others say about him. The story of her father, Ton, is unfolded gradually and events are not consecutively recalled. The reader wonders how Hang came to this world, if Chinh forced her mother, Que, to divorce her father, as mentioned in chapter two.
It was not until chapter four, where one finds out about Ton’s life after leaving Que; he lived in the Muong’s village, adapted to the environment, and even married a lady. When Ton figured out Que’s location from a salesman, he travelled to Hanoi to look for her (Huong, 67). This chapter gap shows that all these little bits of clues are woven together at different parts of the novel like puzzle pieces, as mentioned by Lodge. When reading the book, one might wonder what happened to Ton after Hang was born. Later in the book, the reader is informed that people said that Ton died due to an illness. However, Aunt Tam does not believe in that, and instead thinks that Chinh assassinated her brother, Ton. Although there are some hints tapping into the history of Ton, there is still an atmosphere of uncertainty, therefore leading the reader to become more curious. To make clear, Hang, herself, feels lost because she doesn’t know her own father (Huong, 81).
The use of mystery and suspense throughout the book causes the reader to develop more interest in Hang’s past than her present. All the memories of her past come to life with its vibrant colors. Readers become more intrigued while fitting the puzzle pieces of Hang’s life together throughout the novel. The structure of Hang’s thoughts and the use of poetic language over the course of the novel serve as tools to create more suspense. The language makes the memories replaying in her head seem very realistic with every detail unleashing the reader’s imagination. The memories that are recalled are out of place, and resemble strongly to the mechanisms of our brain. As Lodge stated in his book, the greatest mystery of all is the human heart. As Hang recalls memories of Chinh and his brutal behavior, there is still a question lingering in the air as to why Hang is responding to his request. It is unknown to us, but perhaps, all these memories that she has will help her in making an ultimate decision. The Paradise of the Blind, therefore, has an unsolved mystery in which clues (i.e. Hang’s childhood memories) regarding the present problem are cleverly woven together to help ignite interest in the reader with the help of enigma and suspense.
Lodge, David. The Art of Fiction. Vintage, 2011.
Dương, Thu Hương. Paradise of the Blind. Perennial, 2002.