Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne

Title: The Forgiven
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Themes: responsibility, forgiveness, colonization, "the Other"
Rating: ***

Plot: (from In this haunting novel, journalist and novelist Lawrence Osborne explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of Moroccan Muslims and Western visitors who converge on a luxurious desert villa for a decadent weekend-long party.     
     David and Jo Henniger, a doctor and a children's book author, in search of an escape from their less than happy lives in London, accept an invitation to attend a bacchanal at their old friends' home, deep in the Moroccan desert. But as a groggy David navigates the dark desert roads, two young men spring from the roadside, the car swerves...and one boy is left dead.
     When David and Jo arrive at the party, the Moroccan staff, already disgusted by the rich, hedonistic foreigners in their midst, soon learn of David's unforgivable act. Then the boy's irate Berber father appears, and events begin to spin beyond anyone's control.
     With spare, evocative prose, searing eroticism, and a gift for the unexpected, Osborne memorably portrays the privileged guests wrestling with their secrets amid the remoteness and beauty of the desert landscape. He gradually reveals the jolting backstory of the young man who was killed and leaves David’s fate in the balance as the novel builds to a shattering conclusion.

My Thoughts: I admit that I was thinking entirely of L'etranger by Camus when I first picked up this novel. Both address issues of colonization, relationships between the West/Middle East-Africa, murder, and obviously 'the Other.' Unfortunately the characters aren't entirely "fleshed out," and it can sometimes seem as though Osborne is writing about "poor, desperate post-colonial Moroccans" versus "decadent, imperialist Westerners" in a very cliched way. I think this is partly his writing style because the plot really does have a rather epic (morbid, depressing, hopeless) feel; the oppressive desert seems to have a life of its own as constant backdrop to the ridiculously decadent party David is headed to as well as the abject poverty the Moroccans face. However, occasionally Osborne moves away from the archetypes Camus utilized and creates individuals...admittedly not individuals that are very sympathetic, likeable, or "good" but individuals nonetheless. This keeps the novel from venturing too far into cliche or allegory, by making humans out of his characters Osborne has definitely created a more thought provoking story about Western/"Other" relations.

I'm still not sure what to think of The Forgiven, which is good because it forces thought! But it makes for a difficult review. I found the big bash thrown by Richard and Dally to be over-the-top ridiculous, the ease of bribing Moroccan police horrifying, and the ending rather abrupt after such a meandering story (it felt so languid and slow despite all the exciting events unfolding!).

Similar Reads: The Stranger by Albert Camus

Osborne, Lawrence. The Forgiven. London: Hogarth, 2012.

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