October 2, 2012

Mini-review: "The Forgiven," by Lawrence Osborne

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. A full list of CCLaP's book-based mini-reviews can be found on its main book page, and movies on the main movie page.)

The Forgiven, by Lawrence Osborne

The Forgiven
By Lawrence Osborne
Hogarth

Now that I'm finished with it, I find myself having a hard time deciding what exactly to think of critical darling and "professional nomad" Lawrence Osborne's latest novel, the engaging but also meandering The Forgiven. Because on the one hand, its Graham-Greene-meets-the-Tea-Party setting is going to be fascinating to most sheltered Westerners like myself; almost the entire story takes place within a former Moroccan village that an upper-class gay British couple have bought in its entirety and turned into a private sybaritic estate, where the former family hovels have been turned into WiFi-equipped guest bungalows, and once a year a week-long orgy of drugs and group sex is thrown for the spoiled globetrotters who fly in specifically for it, so notorious that it regularly makes the society pages back in the UK and US publications where most of the guests are from. And the plot that this veteran journalist and academic favorite places within this setting is fascinating as well; two of the guests, a bickering middle-aged British couple, decide to drive to the compound from the airport themselves, accidentally hitting and killing a local African teen in the middle of the night while the driver is slightly sauced, which serves as the catalyst for both a blow-up and deconstruction of their crumbling marriage, the husband's growing alcoholism, the wife's infidelity, the hosts' "tongue-in-cheek imperialist" lifestyle, and even such local issues as scared bravado masked as fiery political rhetoric, and pride versus familial duties. But on the other hand, it takes an awfully big suspension of disbelief to buy into the main plot turn that fuels the entire second half of the book -- that the drunken spoiled vehicular manslaughterer in question would voluntarily ride into the desert with the father of the slain teen and his knife-wielding buddies, for a weekend of penance and possible extortion to "atone" for the accident -- with the entire book sort of falling apart if you don't buy into this unlikely turn of events; plus there's the fact that, while Osborne provides satisfyingly complex looks at his white characters, he often falls back on lazy cliches for the local Moroccans, and of course the age-old argument among academic character-heavy novels that not a whole lot actually happens once this wonderfully complex milieu is established, although by definition this will bother some people a lot less than others. So when all is said and done, in general I recommend the book but with some caveats, that you need to be ready for a slower-paced story whose main joy is merely in lazily lounging among the characters in question, and not in finding out "what happens next." If you're able to do this, you'll find in The Forgiven a beautifully written, thought-provoking examination of 21st-century imperialism, and the debate over whether this attitude is simply baked into all Westerners from childhood by default or if it's a specific result of the same sociopathic urge that drives the One Percenters to become those people in the first place.

Out of 10: 8.8

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:35 AM, October 2, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |