Patrick Flanery Absolution – Review

Absolution

Absolution by Patrick Flanery is a complex novel which tackles a very difficult subject of censorship in South Africa and the issue of Apartheid. The book itself is challenging on many levels.

First of all, it’s not an easy read, but I found myself engrossed in the story, or rather stories, which are linked in an extraordinary way. The characters are vivid and pull the attention towards their part of the story. Clare Wald, who is one of the central characters, is a strong and opinionated person. She knows what she wants and how she’s going to live her life – sometimes her own life seems like one of her characters. The main plot of the story centres on the issue of Clare’s biography which is being written by Sam Leroux. He himself has a certain agenda in writing the book about her – to get as close to her as he can.

All the other characters in the book lead towards many different directions to link Clare and Sam. It’s kind of a game which might bring absolution at the end. That is the next challenge that you face reading the book. Everyone’s stories are told from various perspectives – government records, memories, books, personal observations and endless conversations. This makes the reader face the real dilemma – which stories are true? With so many angles it’s hard to decide who to believe or if something really happened. Everyone has secrets and everyone is a prisoner in one way or another. Constant fear and helplessness driven by corruption and violence forces the question how people can live like that and what they have to sacrifice to survive.

What I really love about this book is that both Clare and Sam chose literature as the pain relief and antidote for all that happened to them. The characters are sometimes shadowed by ghosts of those who had a specific role in the lives of those who struggle to come to terms with their loss and how to fill the empty void left behind them. Writing or reading the books, which not always tell the entire truth, have shaped Clare’s and Sam’s past, present and future so they could deal with the loss of people who were victims of the Apartheid. Some of them decided to take a questionable action, like Clare’s daughter Laura, whereas others were mere collateral damage, amongst them Sam’s parents and Clare’s sister.

Flanery’s style is good, with only a few descriptive fragments which are repetitive and seem a bit out of place. However, it’s a book worth reading – even if it’s a bit difficult to get into right away.

If you like Clare Wald’s character, then I recommend Elizabeth Costello by J M Coetzee.

Author: Patrick Flanery

Title: Absolution

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Format: Hardback, 400 pages

Published: 01/03/2012

ISBN: 9780857892003

Santa Claus and the End of the World

‘This queue has not moved for the last 35 minutes or so!’ No one was really reacting to comments like that anymore. It was a long line of confused and bemused casting hopefuls.

It was supposed to be a busy day at the workshop and no one wanted to spend time waiting and stomping around to keep warm.

‘Hot chocolate, coffee, tea, whisky!’ – A stroppy looking elf girl shouted without any sales pitch enthusiasm.

‘Hot chocolate with whisky for me, dear.’ – Cupid said, taking his wallet from his freshly combed fur pocket. ‘Quite a slow day, isn’t it dear?’

‘You’re not going to talk me into taking you to the front of the queue. Not even with that smile.’ She said with just a slight blush to complement her cold, reddish nose.

‘But my face was on the stamps last year. I’m the best candidate.’ – Cupid got a bit irritated with another futile queue jumping attempt.

‘Second class though.’ – said a bold voice behind him.

‘Says the one who tripped on take-off last year.’ – No smugness in his voice anymore. ‘Quite a Dancer you are.’

‘How can you know you’re the best candidate, when they haven’t even announced the candidate profile yet?’ – Said Dasher who was having second thoughts about any glam career. ‘Unless he knows something.’ Looking sideways, he shouted at the top of his voice. ‘He knows something we don’t! What is it? Tell us!’

Everyone was staring at that point. Who knows if it was only because they were bored, or maybe they all cared and wanted to win the mysterious contest. Santa was the master of the ceremony – they knew that, but no one had any idea what the show was about. It wasn’t anything to do with the delivery of presents, as the team of 9 was strong and ready. No. It was something exciting and dark. Dark like nights beyond Lapland.

‘I think it’s just another panto. Maybe a Jerry Springer take on Christmas or something.’ – said Cupid, sipping his hot chocolate. ‘I saw him trying on a dark cape and red boa the other day.’

The jolly banter carried on for some time. An hour or two and the queue had not moved an inch. One or two creatures left, mumbling under their noses at what a total disaster it was. When the individual chats stopped all of a sudden, every one followed a caped creature that sneaked out the door and was rushing away. Vixen was first to chase. Then chaos erupted. The queue disappeared and the cape fluttered as the chased creature was running. Suddenly a red glow stopped everyone. Rudolph realised there was no escape and he had to face them. Face them all and tell them what? That he’s been chosen to be Santa’s sidekick in this crazy ceremony of sorts. Would that really matter as the world is going to end this Friday? Friday 21st of December – nothing special about it. He composed himself and turned round to look at shocked faces full of questions.

‘I… You know I’d not be able to say anything in advance, but now it doesn’t matter.’ – He shifted his weight and looked around. ‘I suppose I can reveal the plan now.’

‘Is it another panto? I want to be the Dame this year.’ Prancer moved to the front. Face to face with Rudolph now.

‘To be quite truthful, I don’t know what to say. It’s a show. The greatest show on earth. The end of the world.’ He paused and looked around again. They didn’t seem to register the gravity of the matter. ‘Only reindeer will be taken into account during the selection.’

‘I told you Norman we had no chance and yet you insisted to come and wait. Now I missed my episode of Snowydale!’ Two arctic foxes walked away before anything else was said.

Total silence enveloped them all and made them feel colder than ever.

‘What do you mean by the end of the world, Rudolph?’ Blitzen was serious, and with his voice, it dropped heavily on them. It was a serious matter. It wasn’t a casting for a ditsy play they would come to see with their families and friends.

‘Santa is looking for the Four Reindeer of the Apocalypse.’ – Another moment of silence, some feet shuffled and started walking away.

‘Where are you all going? Are you not interested in what is going to happen?’ – Comet was firm and commanding. His posture demanded respect.

‘Rudolph clearly said that Santa is looking for reindeer. I’m a bear.’ The bear’s voice was a growl. ‘I have no interest in any games like that. I wish we knew before that only reindeer would be considered. I’ve wasted enough of my time. No one is going to help me drag all the trees tomorrow, to be ready for Christmas Eve.’

‘Helga, there will be no Christmas Eve.’ Rudolph cringed at hearing his own words.

No matter what it all meant, all the creatures left. Little groups of arguments and little groups of silence. Even the reindeer didn’t seem to care. Only 9 of them left. Standing together in a circle: Rudolph, Vixen, Dasher, Donner, Prancer, Dancer, Comet, Blitzen and Cupid.

‘So what’s going to happen?’ Cupid’s voice was quiet.

‘All I was told is that we need Four Reindeer of the Apocalypse. Nothing else was divulged. Mrs Claus has been crying all day and sewing red sparkly sequins on four black capes. Like this one.’ Rudolph turned around and they saw a shimmering red on black. Colours of evil and darkness.

‘I don’t think I want to be part of it. I forfeit my place in the queue.’ He looked down on his polished hooves. ‘I’ll hit the Frozen Beak to catch up with friends.’

‘It’s not your decision to leave Cupid.’ They followed the voice emerging from behind the firs.

‘Santa! I am ready to stand by you. Whatever it takes.’ Cupid looked ashamed but admired Blitzen’s courage.

‘Thank you. I appreciate it.’ Santa stood in the centre of the circle. ‘I need all of you, but you will have different roles.’

The temperature dropped even lower as they stood amongst the trees and listened to the bleak revelations.

Rudolph was the only one who knew that Santa had already made up his mind. He observed them day and night for quite some time and had decided what to do.

There was no time to rehearse much. They agreed to follow the rules and learn what they were to do on the day.

The Elf workshop ceased its operation. There was no point in making more toys as no one would get them. Instead all the creatures lost themselves in celebrations to either prepare themselves for the end of the world or to forget something like that was bound to happen.

The night before, no one slept. The chosen Four went under a set preparation routine – fur combed, hooves polished, antlers oiled, bells fixed etc.

Only Santa was strangely composed and somewhat cheerful. Some put it down to Mrs Claus’ cherry liquor, some to the possibility that he knew what he was doing. But hope didn’t flicker in many hearts that day.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Comet the Spacebound Reindeer, Donner the Thunder Reindeer and Blitzen the Lightning Reindeer stood abreast in the capes. It was a pitch black evening and all eyes gleamed around. So many creatures came to say goodbye.

Santa took his position at the front and mounted his space snow scooter. New technology if you ask me.

‘Ready, my Four Reindeer of the Apocalypse?’ His eyes shining with pride and purpose. ‘Let’s deliver the end of the world and start a new one.’

Creatures around listened but didn’t understand what he meant. There was the end of the word coming and he was happy about it. He would get a ticket from the Snow Police for driving under the influence.

‘Did you not say that the world would end? So why are you trying to fill our hearts with hope?’ Cupid was still angry, but he forgot what the real reason was. ‘And why is your sack full? No point in giving presents, is there? Answer me you old fool!’

‘Cupid!’ Mrs Claus was taken aback by this sudden outburst.

‘No dear, they have the right to know. The mysterious period has come to an end.’ He didn’t shy from the eye contact. On the contrary, he boldly looked into their eyes and burst out laughing.

‘The end of the world? Really?’ It’s an understatement to say that everyone looked shell shocked. To add to this dramatic change of events the chosen Four joined him in a roar of laughter.

Pandemonium started. There were hysterical laughs, weeping, whining, screaming and silence.

‘People kept talking about this end of the world and I listened to their sceptical thoughts, their fearful thoughts and their empty thoughts.’ No one took a single word in. They just gazed with opened jaws. ‘The end of the world is like finishing a book. No matter what you think of it, if it’s good or bad, it comes to an end. My sack is full of brilliant books and I will, with help of my Reindeer of the Apocalypse, put an end to no reading habits! This year whoever is scared of the end of the world, which we know no one knows when and if it’s going to happen, will get a book to enter another world. Maybe more scary, maybe more cheerful, but a new world. We are bringing the end and the new beginning with each book we give this year for Christmas. Nothing else is given this year. Just books to make people happy in which they can discover new worlds and see for themselves that the end of the world will happen only when there’s no other book to read. No other world to enter.’

The End

Happy Christmas Reading Everyone! Hope you get lots of great books to lose yourself in.

 Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Herald Robin of the Apocalypse