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4.3 out of 5 stars30
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Where to start with this sumptuously descriptive novel dripping with lusciousness and foreboding? The background setting of Morocco is an intrinsic character that fluently comes to life through Lawrence Osborne's writing. Whether it is the landscape, the characters, the ambient temperature, the fossils or the people - both local Moroccans and Westerners whose lifestyles and values pit themselves against each other - everything is bathed in a terracotta hot red, set against the desert and mountains of the country. The food is richly described from the McVitie's crackers slathered with majoun (a mix of kif, dried fruits, nuts and sometimes fig jam) to the couscous "sweetened with sugar and lines of melted cinammon" to "almond breewats" all washed down with Santenay and Tempier Rose.

Jo and David Henniger are motoring down to the ksour, owned by Dally Rogers Margolin and his partner Richard Galloway at Azna, with the prospect of a weekend of hedonism with the rich and powerful from around Europe and America, billed as "the best party East of Marrakech". It is a dark night, the road gives off its accumulated daytime heat, the stark shadows rise up against the mountains. Suddenly, David, with a high level of alcohol in his blood, hits one of two locals, Driss, and kills him on the spot. His companion Ismael heads for the hills as the Hennigers step out of the car to assess the damage.The story expands from there as the cultures of the party people from Europe and America, and the indingenous peoples, the Berbers, weave an unforgiving path. The impact of the tragic incident reverberates into the hedonistic thrum of the party weekend, and forgiveness and revenge vie with each other, as the individuals all respond in their own unique way to events.

The author clearly knows the country really well and the research peppers the pages of the novel. We learn, for example. that fossil mining is a huge industry in the country and each tribe deals in different and specific fossil-types - only the black market dealers cross the lines.
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on 15 June 2014
There is an immense gulf between the seriously wealthy gay couple who have created a luxurious hideaway in a remote desert area of Morocco and the impoverished Muslims fossil hunters who inhabit the region and who provide the servants to dance attendance on the couple and the guests at their extravagant annual parties where the well paid employees observe the drugs and sexual behaviour of the infidels. They are worlds apart and the austere locals with the survivor’s austerity of driftwood cannot but see the hedonistic westerners as infidels.

Two guests to the annual Bacchanal are a British doctor, a deeply establishment figure with the expected prejudices of his age and class and his children’s author wife. The doctor, as usual, drinks too much, too quickly en route to the desert paradise and, on the way, kills a young man who steps in front of his car. Perhaps attempting to sell fossils. The couple bundle the dead man onto the back seat of their car and continue on to the festivities.

This is the extraordinary situation that sets up a dramatic narrative in Paul Bowles territory. The international hedonism is entirely convincing as is the contrast between the westerners world of drugs and champagne and the grief of the dead boy’s father arriving at the gates of the compound and falling to his knees in front of the security gates demanding the corpse of his son.
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on 6 September 2015
Not much to add to the other 5 star reviewers who summarize plot and character and setting. Tense, beautifully written, difficult as lit should be because there are no pat characters to identify with, everyone is morally ambiguous, something you see so rarely in modern fiction. Yes, Bonfire of the Vanities and Great Gatsby are there alongside Paul Bowles but all books are sums of other books, of course. The story itself makes some deep moral points about "the clash of civilizations" without preaching. It left me with a deep hole in my self as all good novels should. Osborne is likened to Greene but like Ballad of a Small Player, for me, he deals more in Dostoevskyian themes of obsession and anomie, guilt and redemption. Great stuff.
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on 8 April 2014
This will make you think twice about spending a fortune to holiday in an area where poverty is endemic - or at least raise your awareness. An uncomfortable exploration of the impact of selfishness and how situations can spiral out of control all too quickly. Some beautiful descriptions and a solid read.
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on 26 July 2015
Just loved this book. The language used is superb ( quite rare these days) & the story shocking in places. I couldn't put it down. Will definitely be looking out for more books from Mr Osbourn
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on 29 September 2013
I liked this book. It has an interesting story line and is very well written. The characters are described without prejudice and although their physical descriptions are sparse and I found it difficult to imagine how each one looked, this is perhaps done deliberately by the author so that their inner spiritual and mental attitudes are more to the fore,
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on 7 May 2014
I have not come across this author before, but having read a review of The Forgiven, thought I'd try it. A haunting tale of the desert and its inhabitants, strange and quite frightening, yet compelling.
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on 3 March 2013
If you have planned that journey of a lifetime to Morocco, this book will make you choose Clacton instead. It is a clever, if consciously so, book which builds its atmosphere of fear and tension in a compelling way. But the book contains not a single attractive character (apart from two English pensioners who have walk-on parts before one of them is murdered)and its portrayal of an unbridgeable gulf between Moroccans and Euroopeans/Americans is powerful (and essential to the plot) but caricatural. The book reminded me of Forster's 'A Passage to India' in its ability to convey sinister tension. But it has none of Forster's subtlety or the capacity to unwrap layers of human emotion. Worth reading, though, if a copy happens your way.
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on 7 January 2013
This story is about a hard-to-believe group of people meeting in a hard-to-believe location to spend a hard-to-believe weekend doing all too believable things. What was not to be believed by the participants is that a death would be on the agenda. But, it became evident, if not believable (though I suppose it should be), that the activities would not be much affected by the body in one of the buildings.

The cause of the death of the native fossil seller was the car being driven by David Henniger. A significant part of the story follows him as he interacts with the family of the deceased. Perhaps interacts is too intimate a word for their interplay. David senses he may not survive the play. I sensed that I didn't much care.

Meanwhile, his wife Jo and other guests must endure the absence of David (most didn't know he was gone). Jo did know he was gone. Jo had to bear up under the strain of the death caused by David's driving. Part of the story is about whether she manages, or how she manages, or something.

I found the book to be shallow but interesting in some way that kept me turning the pages when I would think about grabbing another book. I did want to learn what happened to people I really disliked. Perhaps I was wishing for something less than pleasant to befall them. If that is the case, I may have been pleased.

Maybe that's why I elevated the book from three to four stars.

(Disclosure: I received an Advance Readers Copy from the Amazon US Vine program.)
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on 5 April 2014
Really enjoyed this book. Very well written, created powerful images. Look forward to next book from this author. Recommend to anyone
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