- Atlantic Books
- Publication Date:
- 01 March 2012
- Modern & Contemporary
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Loved everything about this enthralling book: the character development, the structure, the four interwoven plot strands, the writing, the sense of place - just masterful.
It is difficult to believe that this is a debut literary effort! The writing is masterful, dreamlike, and gripping. The form of the novel reels the reader into a confusion of dream, truth, and untruth, creating the confusion which is the primary theme of the novel. What is truth? What is history? What can ever be known for certain? This is true for personal and social history as portrayed in this wonderfully woven story of the pursuit of both personal and national absolution. Absolution is sought for actions taken, actions which are perceived differently by each individual as well as factions within one nation, both before and after apatheid in South Africa. Patrick Flanery is an author who has set a high standard for himself in this first novel. I look forward to seeing what comes next from this new literary voice.
Complex and well written, Absolution will have you wanting to read the next work by this new author, Patrick Flanery. Told in two voices, it weaves a complicated story of violent change in South Africa and the quiet creeping of lies and the mystery of memory. Clare is a renowned author whose daughter, Laura, has disappeared into the violence, responsible for some awful things that Clare can only imagine, and imagine she does. Along comes Sam to interview her and write her biography. When he was a young boy he and Laura chose violence together which he is hesitant to reveal to Clare. Clare herself wallows in the guilt of betrayal which resulted in the violent death of her sister and brother-in-law. How will these two wounded people stop living with their own lies, come to know the lies of the other, correct their memories and find some solace for the future? The book is written in a nonlinear plot line which sometimes confuses and sometimes explains leaving the reader impressed with the author’s skill and lots of questions still churning in the brain into the wee hours of the night.
Absolution is set in contemporary South Africa, a country struggling to establish a new identity in the insecure, often violent, post-apartheid era. The novel is written from multiple skillfully interwoven perspectives. Its structure gives us first person, second person and third person points of view, as well as some “neutral” information in excerpts from testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These perspectives overlap just enough to keep the reader intrigued, absorbed, and puzzled as to what is the “truth”, or whether there is any way to reconcile the disparate versions of events that emerge Our first person narrator is Sam Leroux, a somewhat awkward young man who has been chosen to write the biography of a well-known and controversial author, Clare Wald. Acknowledged as an expert on Wald, whose work he reveres, Sam is nevertheless ill-equipped to draw her into conversational interviews, and Wald is not inclined to make his task any easier. She informs him that she is “a terror”, and sets the ground rules for their meetings. She will not discuss her dead sister, or her presumed-dead daughter Laura’s revolutionary activities; she will not offer Sam food or drink; she will not allow him access to her diaries or other personal papers; she will not entertain questions whose answers are a matter of public record. As Sam tells us of these meetings, we perceive that his interest in Clare Wald is not exclusively academic, that there is some history between them which he is at pains to repress. Clare herself is one of the most elaborately unreliable narrators I've ever encountered. In interviews with Sam, when she is not avoiding direct answers to his questions, she sometimes lies to him outright, as Sam and the reader learn over time. Ultimately, we are not even certain that Clare is not subconsciously deceiving herself about much of her past. Clare’s eponymous sections of the novel are composed as though she were writing the history of her daughter’s last days, pieced together from diaries given to her after Laura’s disappearance, and from Clare’s own nightmares and novelistic imaginings. Further, she relates this history in the second person, as though she were explaining it all to a living participant whose memory has been damaged, or perhaps to a ghost from whom she is hoping to elicit either confirmation or refutation. “Outside, it was light enough to see yourself in one of the truck’s mirrors. There were purplish bags under your eyes and you had recently chipped one of your front teeth. It was not a face you liked, too much of me in the jaw and complexion…” “You could not recall how many days it had been; perhaps five, perhaps as many as fifteen hundred. You had been deprived of any means of recording the passage of time…” Laura’s final hours, as envisioned by Clare, are horrific, and it is difficult to imagine any mother conjuring up such an end to her child’s existence, let alone writing it down. .In the third person sections of Absolution, an omniscient narrator takes us through periods of Sam’s early life and reveals the way Clare lives now--a voluntary prisoner in her own home, locked away behind double gates and shuttered windows, with panic buttons in every room. We learn the connections between these two people, and begin to understand the sources of their internal conflicts. As the title suggests, they are both carrying satchels of guilt, struggling to understand and atone for their ambiguous complicity in distant events. Although he is married and has established a reputation for himself, Sam is still quite young and on occasion naïve. However traumatic his past, his future is still his to shape. We expect him to make a decent show of it. Clare, on the other hand, is near the end of her life, and if she has any illusions left, it is because she has planted them, pruned them and kept them alive in the otherwise overgrown garden of her memory. It is difficult to sympathize with her, impossible to like her, but her efforts to examine her life and come to an acceptance of its rugged truths are admirable.Absolution is one of the best novels I have read in a long time. It is thought-provoking, thrilling and suspenseful, and a masterpiece of literary construction. Remarkably, it is also a first novel from author Patrick Flanery. I will be replacing my dog-eared, well-marked-up ARC of this book with a final published edition, and look forward to a re-read, which will surely be even more rewarding than the first. Five stars; highly recommended.
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