Sunday, 27 October 2013

MAY WE BE FORGIVEN by AM Holmes

This novel tells the story of a man, Harold Silver, whose younger brother is more successful then he: he has an impressive job, a nice wife, two children, etc etc. Then Harold's brother has some kind of mental break, and intentionally causes a car accident in which a family dies. He is hospitalised,and Harold steps in to look after his family. Harold ends up having an affair with the wife, and one night while he is having sex with her the brother comes back home and, finding them together, beats the wife to death with a lamp. Thereafter the brother is jailed, and Harold continues to look after his children.

This early phase of the book is deeply annoying, with Harold a typical late 20th century literary anti-hero, aimless, useless, and totally disassociated from his life or any feelings about it. Try this: "Something is missing. I feel like I've fallen into a space between spaces, like I don't really exist - I'm always out of context. Searching for clarity, I visit my mother" I mean honestly. And no points for guessing that his relationship with his mother is empty and meaningless.

He gets involved with the internet in some unhealthy ways, and we learn that AM Holmes is very likely over 50. Here is her old lady analysis of the internet : "There is a world out there, so new, so random, and disassociated that it puts us all in danger. We talk online, we 'friend' each other when we don't know who we are really talking to - we fuck strangers. We mistake almost anything for a relationship, a community of sorts, and yet, when we are without our familiar, in our communiaties, we are clueless, we short-circuit and immediately dive back into the digitized version . . ." In fact, let's google her age right now.

Yup. She's 51. No surprises there.

However, the story picks up after Harold starts looking after the kids. He develops a sort of strange family made up of various misfits who live in his brother's community, and the story becomes something of a meditation on finding family where ever you are. There's a rather embarrassing trip to South Africa where Harold decides that all the white people are racist, whereas his black waiter is 'a magical experience'(!?!) but this does not detract from the general improvement to the novel which occurs in the last half, making a rather sweet and - thank god - plot driven conclusion to what could have been a dire book.

LIFE AND FATE by Vasily Grossman

As the title suggests, LIFE AND FATE is a novel with a wide scope. It's a gigantic account of Stalinist Russia, mostly during the secon...