ABSOLUTION by Patrick Flanery

Book Quote:

“There is something I never told you, Laura, a thing about me that makes us more alike than you might imagine. While I have many regrets — in particular about the kind of mother I was to you, and the kind of mother I never managed to be — I have no greater regret than this: that I failed to tell you the darkest truth about me when you were present to hear it, that I failed to show you, when you needed it, how alike we were. This my true confession. To confess is all that I can do for you.”

Book Review:

Review by Friederike Knabe  (NOV 30, 2013)

Patrick Flanery’s debut novel is a very interesting example of an overarching story that incorporates another “novel” or “memoir,” a journal and more embedded inside it.  Set in post-apartheid South Africa Absolution is a thought provoking book, and engaging; not necessarily, or least of all, in the sense one would initially expect. Much of the novel could be set in any other country that lived through two opposing government systems. While there are hints of the political realities of South Africa, such as the brief visit to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the central theme of the novel addresses deep moral questions of the human condition that are not time or place specific.

In the most broad sense Absolution is a deep reflection on guilt and seeking foregiveness, on what is truth and why we may not even admit aspects of the truth and our behaviour to ourselves, let alone to others. How many shades of truth are there?

Two central characters – Clare, a grand old dame of literature and Sam, her much younger biographer – enter over the course of the novel into a kind of intellectual and emotional “pas de deux,” whereby each reacts to or dances around the other’s questions and answers. Both reveal slowly and tentatively snippets of themselves and their lives… leaving us as readers to sift through the many shades of truths. As we follow each piece within the emerging puzzle we may at times think we are ahead of the two protagonists, but are we really?

While the “pas de deux,” the discussions between author and biographer, are central to the novel, the backstories of the two protagonists, told in separate sections and in different tones, are as essential. There is Clare’s “letter” to her daughter Laura, which reflects on and responds to her daughter’s notebooks, written while she was on the run from authorities during the “old regime” some twenty years earlier. Clare is also writing a “novel,” Absolution, that reads more like a personal memoir and in another series of chapters we learn more about Sam’s life that was deeply shaken early on in his youth.

Flanery is very effective in pursuing these different narrative streams, interleafing them in a way that, taken together, make for an engaging and comprehensive whole. Your attention is required to keep the different versions of the truth apart. Personally, I couldn’t help comparing Clare with the real-life grand old dame of South African writing, Nadine Gordimer. Be assured, though, there are no parallels between the two, other than maybe the home invasion that both experienced and that weighs heavily on Clare’s mind. I was taken by surprise that, despite the important political undercurrent in the novel, so little was in fact expressed in terms of the complex South African realities then and now. Race or colour was hardly ever mentioned, if at all. On the other hand, I found some sections too detailed and a tightening of those would have increased my reading engagement. Yet, for a debut novel, this book is a great achievement and we can hopefully look forward to more by the author.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 28 readers
PUBLISHER: Riverhead Trade (April 2, 2013)
REVIEWER: Friederike Knabe
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Patrick Flanery
EXTRAS: Publisher page
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November 30, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Africa, Debut Novel, World Lit

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