Book Review: 'Absolution' by Patrick Flanery

A tale about a tangled web as published in the May 2012 issue

By Pam Houston
absolution image
Photograph: Bryan McCay

We are nothing more than the assemblage of stories we tell about ourselves. This is one way to state the premise of Patrick Flanery’s compelling, unsettling debut novel set in the turbulent South Africa of the past 30 years. Dazzlingly intricate, Absolution (Riverhead) asks us, through its very structure, to ponder the reliability of memory and history—asks us to question the authority of all stories and suggests that in those involving murder and torture, the “truth” is as evasive as a dream. Told by Clare, a novelist who has lost both a sister and a daughter to the antiapartheid movement; by Sam, her biographer, with whom she shares a buried past; and by an “objective” observer, Absolution adroitly stays one step ahead of the reader. Ultimately affirming the ways in which we search for what is real even while it confounds us and implies our complicity in the lies our cultures and our countries tell. 

Next: 'Into the Garden with Charles' by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger

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