Wednesday, October 31, 2012
REVIEW: The Forgiven, by Lawrence Osborne
I think I need to read everything Hogarth Press publishes.
Hogarth is a new imprint of Random House, named after the press founded in 1917 by Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf. Our Hogarth Press is a new home for edgy, voice-driven fiction, and it produces about four titles a season. I've read three Hogarth titles now and each has been outstanding in its own way. The Watch, by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, was a brilliant indictment of the war in Afghanistan; The Dead Do Not Improve, by Jay Caspian Kang, was a comic crime novel set in San Francisco among hipsters, gangbangers and surfers, and now there's The Forgiven, a searing, atmospheric story of lust and death in the Moroccan desert.
David and Jo Henninger are a wealthy British couple on their way to a weekend bacchanal at a lavish estate; Richard and Dally, their hosts, spare no expense to give their friends a getaway filled with bountiful meals, free-flowing wine, and sex, and drugs, and whatever else they want. But David has had too much to drink and the couple gets lost on the way. They hit and kill a young Moroccan man named Driss, who may or may not have wished them ill, but who is, nonetheless, very dead. David and Jo arrive at the party with the young man's corpse in tow. Richard and Dally and their servant Hamid wait to see what will happen next, which is that Driss's father shows up and makes David an offer he can't refuse.
In the mean time, the narrative alternates between the party and Driss's short life, including his adventures in France, which story may or may not be true. Osborne, a travel writer, excels at creating atmosphere and mood; the plot is enough to keep you going but it isn't really the point. What's interesting to watch is the way the characters develop, the way each reacts to the crisis and how the grow and change. The characters' interactions and reactions to each other make up so much of the action, their prehistoric prejudices collapsed into modern day post-colonialism and post-9/11 anxiety. The Moroccans in the book make their living selling fossils, the characters' attitudes towards each other as old and as integral to who they are as the ammonites and trilobites they buy and sell. Both sides are stained to the marrow with hostility and hatred; neither side can do anything to please the other, except, maybe, the one thing David refuses to do.
So, I loved it. Even though the plot is far from razor-sharp, I was riveted to this book which manages to be both slow to savor and quick to read. It's intoxicating and langorous but at the same time I really wanted to know what was going to happen. The answer, which doesn't come till the final line, is devastating. I strongly- strongly- recommend this to literary fiction readers and anyone else who would enjoy gorgeous armchair travel combined with a haunting, and haunted, narrative of lost souls.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.