A bold and exciting literary novel set in South Africa that contemplates the elusive line between truth and self-perception.
Ambitious and assured, Absolution propels the reader to the final page in a drive to discover the secrets and truths at its core. How or why did a young antiapartheid activist disappear twenty years earlier? How does that event link the present-day characters? And how does it explain the choices they have made or the lies they may tell themselves?
Absolution is a big-idea novel about the pitfalls of memory, the ramifications of censorship, and the ways we are silently complicit in the problems around us. It’s also a devastating, intimate, and stunningly woven story. Told in shifting perspectives, it centers on the mysterious character of Clare Wald, a controversial South African writer of great fame, haunted by the memories of a sister she fears she betrayed to her death and a daughter she fears she abandoned. Clare comes to learn that in this conflict the dead do not stay buried, and the missing return in other forms—such as the child witness of her daughter’s last days who has reappeared twenty years later as Clare’s official biographer, prompting an unraveling of history and a search for forgiveness. Part literary thriller, part meditation on the responsibility of the individual under totalitarianism, this is a masterpiece of rich, complicated characters and narration that captures the reader and does not let go.
Flanery's intricate debut, full of shifting perspectives and temporal leaps, calls for disciplined sleuthing to fully realize its merits. Set mostly in a richly described postapartheid South Africa, the interconnected plot lines follow aging, contentious writer Clare Wald as she attempts to assemble the sordid details of her revolutionary daughter Laura's disappearance over two decades ago. She's also dealing with her own remorseless complicity in the assassination years ago of her sister and her sister's husband, a prominent figure in the National Party. Another plot finds Sam Leroux, a white South African whose parents died in a botched bombing and whose aunt was murdered in a robbery, returning to write Clare's biography, an act that slowly reveals complicated bonds between them. Yet many questions remain: what became of Laura? Was she involved in the death of Sam's parents? Who killed Sam's aunt, and was the death connected to a break-in witnessed by Clare? Which version of the truth, if any, is "real"? Adeptly orchestrating multiple points of view, Flanery builds intrigue by allowing his characters' unreliable interpretations of history, but with mixed results. Early understanding of the novel's confusing form (chapters entitled "Absolution" are from Clare's book, for one) would enable deeper, less frustrating reading. Still, this is a puzzle worth solving.