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on 30 March 2017
I found the characters to be self-indulgent and the writing not to flow well. I couldn't relate to any of them, and the dislike of them and their situations I found difficult and prevented me from finishing the book. It just wasn't for me.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 July 2013
Ben has been sleepwalking to disaster for some time. The meltdown, when it happens, is pretty spectacular and, needless to say, has dramatic consequences for his family. All things considered, his wife, Helen, handles it with remarkable aplomb. But for Sara, their adopted Chinese daughter in her vulnerable early teens, it looks like life is about to throw her another curveball.

When the surprisingly resourceful Helen lands a job in PR, we get some great insight into the world of 'spin' and crisis management. We also get to meet a superb supporting cast including Helen's astute but struggling boss Harvey, Ben's smart small-town lawyer Bonifacio, Sara's rich shoplifting boyfriend Cutter, clip-board nazi Bettina and the famous movie star Hamilton Barth (think: Johnny Depp).

This is a sharply observed and thoroughly engaging read at the heart of which lies the universal need for re-invention. Or is this a uniquely American phenomenon? In any event, Jonathan Dee keeps things moving at a cracking pace and at 270-odd pages, he doesn't outstay his welcome either (something of a rarity these days). I loved it.
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on 9 May 2013
"A Thousand Pardons" tells the story of Ben and Helen, a well off middle class American family and their adopted Chinese daughter Sara. As the marriage of Ben and Helen breaks down in dramatic fashion, Sara becomes increasingly estranged from her parents.

Can Helen, who in her professional life has to help clients to turn negative events into something positive and apply the same principals to her private life?

I had not previously read any novels by Jonathan Dee so I was not sure what to expect with this novel. The only downside to this novel was that the plot regarding Helen was a bit farfetched and the ending was a bit of an anti-climax as the story just seemed to end without and resolution of the many of the stories.

However, overall what I found was a superbly written novel which kept me hooked on it until the end. I will be looking to read his previous 5 novels as to me this book showed that Jonathan Dee is definitely an author I want to read more of.

I would recommend this book for anyone male or female. The book would particularly be enjoyed those who enjoy intelligent, contemporary American fiction about family relationships and how complex these have become in the 21st Century.
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on 24 June 2013
John Cheever's short story "The Country Husband" provides useful context for Jonathan Dee's interesting and well-written novel, set like Cheever's story in a commuters' suburb of New York City. In Cheever's story, the protagonist, Francis Weed, behaves foolishly in a way that's comparable to the behavior of the character Ben in Dee's novel. But Cheever's story encourages a Freudian reading -- "Civilization and its Discontents" goes along way to providing a key to the story. One could read Dee's novel reductively in such terms too, but that exercise wouldn't help with the particular texture and circumstances that Dee's characters inhabit. What's the difference? Well, one is the extent to which, in the internet age, everyone is potentially a celebrity, especially when he or she behaves badly, so the question of self-consciousness, both as people contemplate behaving badly and also as they deal with the consequences of having done so, becomes complicated and interesting. The idea of "image" -- both the one one has of oneself and the one that is defensively projected to the world -- is thus central to the novel, and so that we don't forget that, another main character, Helen (Ben's wife), gets a job with a public relations firm. To the extent that the novel is satirical (which is a considerable extent) it is the world of "PR" and "damage control" that is the main target, a world that has perhaps more importance than the world of "law" (Ben is a lawyer) in the way bad behavior is negotiated. This concern with PR and image and celebrity is focused in the novel by the presence of a "real" celebrity, the now-middle-aged movie star Hamilton Barth (who came from the same small town as Helen). Barth's bad behavior parallels Ben's and comes to Helen's attention by virtue of her work in PR, but her dealing with Hamilton mixes her professional and personal interests in a way that makes us wonder if her treatment of Hamilton might lead her to see the consequences of Ben's bad behavior in a new light. Dee manipulates the plot ingeniously but not incredibly in a way that gives the reader an opportunity to see Helen face the similarities between Hamilton (the professional celebrity) and Ben (the temporary one).

The other interesting feature of the book is the way it draws attention to the idea of being "gifted," which of course is related to issues of "image," but not always in an uncomplicated way. Hamilton is "gifted," but because he is a movie actor his image is not totally his to command (Suffice it to say that the nastiest character in the book is his agent -- that's not a spoiler!). Helen too is gifted, and I'll let readers find out for themselves about her gift. The invention of it is one of Dee's finest ideas in the novel. Her consciousness of that gift is not an unmixed blessing, but the ideas of blessing and grace are nonetheless relevant to Helen's situation.

We as readers are at different points in the book inside the heads of Ben, Helen, and Hamilton. We also have access to the consciousness of Sara, Ben's and Helen's adoptive Asian daughter. At 14, and reflective without being analytical, she enables us to see bad behavior on Helen's part -- and that's important, for Helen is also a victim of the bad behavior of others. I would argue that Sara is "gifted" too -- though perhaps in way that has become a bit conventional: the child who sees her parents with clarity and thus has a kind of "wisdom." Dee works hard to normalize Sara, especially and effectively in her relationship with her gifted but troubled classmate Cutter.

In these comments, I've tried to indicate what makes the novel interesting without giving away the plot. Dee writes with grace, clarity, and efficiency. He is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Franzen. I think his novel (and this one is the only one I've read so far) is maybe a bit less ambitious in scope but more successfully achieved than "The Corrections," which I liked but found a bit labored. My advice is -- read and enjoy!
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This doesn’t sound like a barrel of fun, but it’s actually delightful in a lot of ways. Ben’s marriage is failing badly as he suffers a kind of crisis of existential angst and ends up on the end of a nasty blow-back as a result of picking the wrong woman to pursue. While he is signed into an institution and then has to do 28 days in prison, his wife Helen accepts the inevitable, picks herself up, sells the house and gets herself a job in a PR company, from where she is head-hunted to a much larger company because of her natural good sense and flair at turning bad publicity into – if not good, then far less damaging publicity.

When she is given tickets for a premier starring Hamilton Barth she can scarcely believe her luck. They had a teenaged fling long before he became a movie star, and when she and her daughter Sarah (who is adopted) attend the premier, they meet again, although Hamilton himself doesn’t seem to remember much about Helen.

Hamilton slips his minders at the end of the evening and ends up on a week-long binge about which he can remember almost nothing. Except the vague feeling that he has done something irredeemable, and indeed, things look bad, though all he has to go on is a lot of blood on a motel bed and a missing woman. It is to Helen he turns for help in unravelling the mystery of Hamilton’s lost week.

These alarming circumstances are treated quite lightly, but not by Helen. What has Hamilton done? Why has Ben bought back their old house? Why is Sarah so relieved that her boyfriend has been arrested – and quite frankly, what the hell is going on? This is a marvellously entertaining novel. There is one loose end that is never tied up, but maybe Hamilton deserves a small sword of Damocles forever dangling? A treat from start to finish with a graciously ambiguous ending.
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In A Thousand Pardons, Jonathan Dee gets into the very heart and soul of marital discord and with great skill he manipulates a story of how two ordinary people cope with devastating matrimonial disharmony.

Ben and Helen Armstead appear to have everything that middle class America can offer and yet all it takes is one afternoon of recklessness and the whole thing falls apart. Ben, a successful lawyer commits professional suicide in an unprecedented act of foolishness, forcing Helen into making some difficult lifestyle decisions. Whilst Ben and Helen stumble around in improbable situations, caught in the middle is their adopted teenage daughter Sara, who is an unpleasant child, but given the emotional upheaval in her life, it's not difficult to imagine why she is so troubled.

However good the narrative is, and believe me, there are moments of sheer brilliance, there are also times when I had to suspend belief, specifically the implausibility of Helen's meteoric rise to success in the competitive world of damage limitation, and the inclusion into the story of a debauched Hollywood movie star, whose tenuous link to Helen's past was rather bizarre. And yet, despite the moral righteousness of the story, I found I empathised more with Ben, whose very personal disintegration was handled with sensitivity and compassion.

Whilst A Thousand Pardons is a very modern story about the breakdown of a marriage, it is also the story of the minutiae of daily life and the seemingly mindless boredom which all too easily invades hopes and dreams.
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on 2 June 2013
Ben and Helen appear to have marriage problems they do not speak or touch each other any more. They both go to talk to Dr Becket about their marriage problems. Ben has a new summer associate Cornelia to work at his law firm. Ben invites Cornelia to stay at a hotel with him. Ben finds himself in hospital with the police who arrest him on sexual assult. This novel is full of drama and not to missed. You csn buy this on love reading or amazon. I have more reviews on ireadnovels wordpress com. Happy reading to all
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Ben and Helen appear to have an enviable life. Ben has a good job as a lawyer and Helen takes care of their suburban home and adopted daughter Sara. But this is a marriage in meltdown and at the beginning of the book Ben suffers a psychotic breakdown with catastrophic results - loss of employment, criminal and civil proceedings, destruction of the family.

While everything seems to be lost Helen takes on the task of rebuilding a life for her and Sara. She succeeds (against the odds) in getting work with a small PR firm and quickly finds out that public relations is mainly about clearing up the mess made by other people. She finds she has a natural talent for the work and even though she is required to accept works from some very dubious people she manages to stay within the boundaries of ethical actions.

But things get really difficult for Helen when she is contacted by a film actor in difficulties - and this time a serious crime may have been committed.

The storytelling is terrific as we watch the family crumble, then rebuild itself. It is darkly funny and there are some great characters. There is Bonifacio (Ben's not quite alcoholic lawyer), Harvey Aaron (who runs a rather hopeless PR firm) and Hamilton (the film actor filled with self doubts).

Great stuff - a literary novel with a touch of thriller!
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on 11 August 2013
I'm not familiar with Jonathan Dee's previous work but a review in the Irish Times prompted me to get this book for my summer holiday reading. It absorbed me from the first page. The world of suburban New York, male midlife crises, shaky marriages and self-absorbed teenagers is familiar enough from films and TV series as is the response of a community under threat from one of its members. The middle-aged woman in search of a job after years of home-making is also familiar and her success in an unexpected field is ... well, not quite credible.
The title "A Thousand Pardons" refers to one of the themes of novel - forgiveness. It covers the need to forgive oneself and others, the capacity to admit wrongdoing and the effects of failing to admit wrongdoing or to make amends, at personal, community and institutional levels.
I enjoyed the novel and as I read it I could picture it as a film.
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on 4 November 2015
Interesting premise but one that goes nowhere.

I cared little for any of the characters and found the dialogue basic and flat. The plot was unrealistic and the ending a complete disappointment.
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