Monday, December 31, 2012

Lawrence Osborne's The Forgiven

This is it! The last book read in 2012 is number 119. The Forgiven is a title that had received a lot of early press, and which I had on my nook, direct from the publisher, but failed to get to in the allotted time. I'm so glad that I spotted it on the new book shelf the other day and snapped it up. I know that I was impressed but it wasn't until I found the author's website that I was reminded that this novel was on many prestigious "best of" lists this year.

I don't doubt that many readers, Americans in particular, will find this a difficult novel to swallow. Mr. Osborne appears to have spent his entire life traveling which would indicate a certain openness to other cultures, a person at home in the world, unlike the ill fated characters in his book. Brits, Dr. David Henniger and his wife Jo have rented a car in Tangier, undertaking the long ride out into the Moroccan desert to a weekend party at the palatial estate of a long time acquaintance. There's an uncomfortable tension between the two, so that readers sense the twenty year marriage is on its last legs.

Lost, drunk, late, and irritable, the very unlovely doctor speeds toward his destination without a thought to the young, ragged man who runs out into the road with his souvenirs for sale. I was honestly surprised that David actually even stopped to see who he might have hit but here's where it gets strange. The boy is dead, an argument ensues, and the decision is made to bundle the young man up in the back of the car and continue on to the party, laying the "problem" at the doorstep of the hosts, the debonair, well connected Richard and his partner, Dally.

What's so disturbing about this novel is the cold, detached way that the international guests and the Hennigers themselves can so easily distance themselves from the young man who lies shrouded, surrounded by oil lamps, in the garage of the manse. They don't see him as a person with a family or a history, but simply as a thing to be disposed of with as little fuss as possible, so that they can return to the party. And at first, it seems that that's exactly what will happen. But not so fast...

Mr. Osborne's powers of observation are stellar and his writing is so nuanced and lovely that the book is difficult to lay down. What he sees, though, is pretty despicable. The arrogance of some, the deep-seated resentment of Richard's staff as they wait on "the infidels" hand and foot, the foolish, air-headed women there to entertain, snort dope, and decorate the poolsides, all make you wonder, "why am I reading about these folks?" The answer is that you can't stop. You watch in fascination and with a sense of dread, like driving slowly by an automobile accident on a busy highway.

When the young boy's father, Abdelleh, arrives at the gates of the mansion to retrieve his son's body, he makes a bizarre request. He invites, no, insists, that David return with him to his home so that he can ask him about the incident that killed his boy, who has a name, Driss. Unbelievably, David goes. We readers are then treated to a parallel storyline that involves Driss and how he's spent the years up to his death. In a tour-de-force of storytelling, all perceptions are suddenly turned upside down. I can give away no more.

This is a shocking novel about the clash of cultures, about entitlement, naivete, forgiveness and restitution. An outstanding way to end the year!

Tomorrow I'll begin my 2013 book list with Retire Happy from the Nolo Press. Happy New Year dear readers. I've got to go check a few websites to see if we've gone over the fiscal cliff yet!


TooManyBooks said...

Beat you. My last was Sutton, making 126 for the year. Maybe when I retire I'll finally make the 144 goal.

Sallyb said...

You blow me away! With the pressure of your job and always out and about with Paul and family I just don't know how you read so many books. Are you a speed reader? Do you retain everything? Can't wait to chat Tuesday.

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