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
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Format: Hardback, 400 pages