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Customer reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 30 April 2013
This is an ambitious and multi-layered engagement with post-apartheid South Africa, and a complicated unravelling of where political motives might overlap with the personal. With big themes of memory, truth, reconciliation and forgiveness, this is a very intelligent book but - like some of the other reviewers here - I can't help feeling that some of the complexities of the narrative structure work to obscure the fact that, at heart, there's little new or original here.

Flanery writes well, and has created a great character in Clare Wald: ageing, cantankerous, touchy, consumed with a sense of self-guilt. While the country attempts to work through the guilt of its past in the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so Clare seeks her own redemption through her relationships with Sam, her writing and her children.

This isn't a polemic, and there's a nice light touch over some of the politics: Sam's visit to Robben Island, for example, makes only brief mentions of its `most famous prisoner' without bashing us over the head with the obvious points. There are also some horrific imaginings of the plight of political prisoners which haunt after the end of the book.

Yet, for all the good stuff, I ended this book feeling a little unsatisfied. The issue, especially, of the overlapping of political and personal motives, where the political might, in fact, be an ambiguous excuse for the personal, reminded me irretrievably of Graham Greene's The Quiet American set in Vietnam where a similar point is dramatized with, arguably, a tighter focus and far more impact.

I'm sorry if I sound overly negative and do want to stress that this is an ambitious, nuanced and intelligent read in lots of ways - it just wasn't the blow-away 5-star read that I had expected.
One person found this helpful
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on 13 November 2013
Successful elderly writer Clare Wald, summons young journalist Sam Leroux to her home with the intent of allowing him to be her biographer, and their conversations illuminate her back story.

Set in modern day South Africa the events of the novel are placed against the backdrop of the fairly recent political upheavals of that nation, the findings of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission for example are referenced often. The novel is constructed in an odd way, and at times this made it difficult to read. Split into three sections it at times has sections from Clare's perspective and then Sam's interspersed with excerpts from Clare's final novel, a 'faction' named 'Absolution'.

Clare did not choose Sam for the task for no apparent reason Sam & Clare have a link, a link neither is able to discuss, and as Sam's narrative contradicts what Clare sets forth in 'Absolution' it becomes harder to know what really happened, and in some respects this is the point of 'Absolution' how, when in absence of the facts, we make up fictions in our minds of events we know to have happened but do not know the detail.

Another strand of Absolution revolves around guilt and responsibility, how responsible is a person when a remark they make sets forth a chain of events they didn't foresee culminating in disaster.

The problem with 'Absolution' as a novel and what makes it become hard work as a read is that these points about history and responsibility become laboured and the making of them ultimately occurs at the cost of the narrative : the plot becomes damaged and skewed by the authors apparent need to make them. A lengthy diatribe about censorship for example is just entirely out of step with the rest of the plot.

By far the most interesting aspect of 'Absolution' is the fate of Laura, a fate that is ultimately left hanging in mid air, with the onus on the reader to infer what they can.

All in all the novel is something of a mixed bag that does not entirely flow together very well despite containing excellent idea
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on 16 November 2014
What a joy it is to come across a wonderful new writer. I was engrossed in Absolution every time I picked it up, reading it daily through a working week or two, never with anything less than enormous enjoyment and admiration. Form and content complement one another perfectly, and the writing itself is superb. The story unfolds at a steady pace, never rushing but never letting up either. It alternates the first-person viewpoints of two main characters - veteran South African writer Clare and her young biographer Sam whose accounts are interleaved with chapters written in the third person. This structure, far more subtle and rewarding than a simple linear narrative, puts the reader inside the heads of Sam and Clare, generating an immensely real and compelling involvement between them and the reader which is further heightened by Flanery's refusal to resolve all of the contradictions in their accounts of their troubled histories. The setting is post-apartheid South Africa, the story concerned with how characters have been affected by country's violent and repressive history and how they live with its present dangers. The sense of what it is was and is like to live in this harsh and beautiful part of the world is vividly conveyed. The narrative retains its grip on the reader right to the end when, in the final pages, Clare and Sam each achieve some kind of victory over their ghosts. Finally, the tension you realise you have been carrying as a result of your involvement with the two of them is afforded some release, a moment of touching humanity that is profoundly moving. A stunning debut novel correctly characterised by AS Byatt on the cover: "A wonderfully constructed and gripping novel about betrayal and shadows in South Africa". Yes, indeed... Superb.
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on 30 October 2015
This is one of the most long winded and tedious books I've ever read and had it not been for bookclub I would have abandoned it about a third way through.
Clare's narrative is so lengthy and clunking. She was so cold, I didn't care about her life... Awful character.
I had no idea how long it was as I was reading it on a kindle, it seemed to drag on forever, I could only engage a bit with Sam, not with her daughter Laura.
I really can't recommend this in any way...... Dreadfully dull.
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on 9 August 2013
Really lovely style but i just didn't get the story. Probably suits cleverer people than I. Apparently I need 4 more words, right, that did it.
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on 28 April 2014
I enjoyed this book, the switching between characters to tell it worked well and provided a good read for me.
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on 6 February 2014
It hasn't deceived me. The book is entertaining. I bought It for the picture of the cover, though. Thank you.
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on 21 January 2013
I recently read this book on my Kindle whilst on a beach holiday in India.
Initially, as others have suggested, I found it a little bit difficult to get into and the layout of the writing felt jumpy and foreign.
However, the boredom quickly passed as I delved into the story and I was soon reading fervently night after night, and finished the book in 5 or 6 readings. I can't quite remember everything that happened or even why I like it, but it was some journey! There were sentences and paragraphs that I just read over and over again, soaking in the details and asking myself questions as I went along.

It isn't the easiest of reads (emotionally) and if you're going to read it, be warned that it's not a book you can read a couple of pages of, put down and pick up again! Set some time aside... Mr. Flanery writes beautifully, and it's a real work of art, in my opinion.
2 people found this helpful
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on 19 March 2013
Good to get a feel for South Africa back in the days of the troubles. Some interesting story lines but I found it somewhat tedious. I couldn't relate to the main character at all.
3 people found this helpful
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on 30 November 2012
A look at South Africa's history as it moves from apartheid to a more liberal rule. An author commissions her biography and through her story we enter the lives of many fighting for freedom
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