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Absolution Hardcover – April 12, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“[An] uncommonly thought-provoking first novel…richly imaginative… Patrick Flanery is an exceptionally gifted and intelligent novelist and he is just getting started.”—Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker

"Flanery has talent to spare, and he’s a talent to keep an eye on."—Alexandra Fuller, The New York Times Book Review

"A riveting portrait of a country, a culture, and two individuals who've waited a lifetime to confront each other—and confront themselves."—O, The Oprah Magazine

"With a sure grasp . . . [Flanery] manages to navigate his narrative through twists and turns and stunning revelations that cast new light on characters and situations already delineated with insight and subtlety."—The Wall Street Journal

"Flanery is a talented prose stylist, and he deserves comparison to big names like Philip Roth and Margaret Atwood. This is a complex and ambitious novel in a grand tradition, that dares to ask questions about censorship, memory, and political responsibility, all while maintaining a very human story of loss and forgiveness at its core. South Africa and its many familiar contradictions have gone under-represented in American literature, but this impressive book will go a long way towards amending that deficit."—The Daily Beast

"Absolution serves as proof, if any were needed, that a novel can be both unashamedly literary and compellingly readable – Man Booker judges, take note."—The Financial Times

"Absolution is a beautifully crafted novel. . . . [Flanery's] novel has some obvious similarities to works by South African authors, notably Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. Yet Absolution is no pastiche. Flanery’s writing is graceful and rich in imagery. The novel moves like a thriller: The reader will be eager to discover how much Sam and Clare recall. At the same time, it explores complicated issues such as the impact of violence and the long-term effects of apartheid with an ethical gravity. Absolution is a must read for anyone interested in South Africa, or in literary fiction of the finest kind."—Bookpage

"Patrick Flanery's debut novel costructs a mosaic of South Africa . . . as powerfully described here as in any book by JM Coetzee or Damon Galgut. . . . This is an exceptionally intelligent, multi-layered novel encompassing politics, history, a gripping storyline, and complex characters. It has absorbing depictions of grief, guilt, parenthood, and sibling rivalry, and is beautifuly written. The prose is lucid and strong, scenes of crime are full of suspense, and time and again phrases haunt with their imagery. . . . Absolution is an exceptional book.”—The Independent

"The wonder of this outstanding first novel is that Flanery weaves the stories together with assurance and craftsmanship, digging underneath many received ideas about the old and new South Africa."—The Times (UK)

"At a time of intense media focus on global political protest, Patrick Flanery’s sophisticated debut explores the personal and political legacy of such action in South Africa. . . . Wriggling with secrets, the gripping narrative swings back and forth between Eighties apartheid . . . and the South Africa of today: a pretend paradise of ‘luxury bunkers,’ panic buttons in the bedroom, and simmering interracial mistrust. . . . Setting the tale in South Africa is inspired, allowing Flanery to play insightful games with ideas of self-deception and amnesty. The prose surges with enjoyable debate about the slipperiness of truth, the nature of forgiveness, and whether fiction is more honest than nonfiction. . . . The novel [has a] satisfying emotional heft.”—Sunday Telegraph

"Patrick Flanery is an extraordinary new writer and Absolution shines a light on contemporary South Africa and the long shadow of apartheid, the elusive nature of truth and self-perception, and the mysterious alchemy of the creative process. Absolution is a debut of great strength and power."—GQ (UK)

"Compelling . . . At times, Flanery's prose evokes Graham Greene. . . . A literary thriller whose writing is consistently first class."—The Observer

"A taught literary thriller set in South Africa . . . [Absolution is] a very clever, beautifully written book."—The Daily Mail 

"[Sam's] attempts to untagle the past and sort through the blurring of memory are masterfully handled by Flanery, who writes with a confidence and erudition that belie his young age."—The Daily Telegraph

"Told from alternating points of view, the novel shifts from unsettled present to bloody past, from today’s fractured economic and social environment to the historic struggle to end apartheid. . . . Flanery has constructed a haunting labyrinth of mirrors, fact reflecting remembrance, lie reflecting evasion. Complex in theme, complex in narrative, this is a masterful literary exploration of the specter of conscience and the formidable cost of reconciliation."—Kirkus (starred)

“Patrick Flanery is an extraordinary new writer. Absolution is smart, moving, and provocative, a rare combination of page-turner and literary triumph. More than a book about South Africa, this is a book about the hunt for the truth, a hunt that is as universal as it is essential.  Utterly captivating, this is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in a long while.”—Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

 “One rarely encounters such a confident first novel as Absolution. Patrick Flanery arrives on the scene wholly formed: a writer of superb self-confidence, depth of insight, and resolute clarity.  His is a beautifully written piece of fiction, a major accomplishment.”—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Passages of Herman Melville

About the Author

Patrick Flanery was born in California and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford. He lives in London.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (April 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781594488177
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488177
  • ASIN: 1594488177
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
If Patrick Flanery's South African set debut novel "Absolution" is anything to go by, he could well be one of the next big names in literary fiction. It's complex and at times challenging, but ultimately an extremely rewarding reading experience.

The narrative is braided and follows several characters through four repeating chapter headings. Finding your way about what is going on here is initially somewhat confusing, and how they interplay together is part of the joy of the book not something I want to reveal too much about to a potential reader. It starts with Sam, an academic who is returning to his native South Africa from the US to write a reluctantly authorised biography of Clare Wald, a difficult elderly writer. Secondly, there's a third-person narrative that starts with the aftermath of a house invasion at Clare's house. Thirdly, there is a first-person narrative set in the past about Clare's daughter Laura, who has since disappeared. The final thread is a flashback to Sam's own youth. We know from very early on that there is a shared past between Clare and Sam, of which Clare seems oblivious. It's that shared past that drives the novel. One of the threads is entitled "Absolution" which we learn fairly early on is Clare's own fictionalised, and soon to be published, memoir of events. But unlike with her initial contact with Sam, she is not deliberately obfuscating the truth - she simply doesn't know what happened. She's just trying to pull the threads together herself.

If that all sounds very confusing, then it is - at least at first. If you like your novels to start at the beginning and end at the end, then this isn't the book for you.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I'm afraid I didn't get on as well with this book as some other reviewers did. It has all the hallmarks of a book which expects to be considered for literary prizes - elegant prose, themes and setting chosen for their Great Importance, multiple narrative voices and fractured timescale, and so on - but I found it a long slog and in the end I wasn't convinced that it is as profound as it thinks it is.

The publisher's synopsis on this page gives a good account of the book's plot and themes, and there were certainly good things about it. It paints a vivid picture of immediately post-apartheid South Africa with the constant fear of violent crime and the difficulty of straightforward relationships between races even for people of good will. The elderly writer Clare's character in particular was believable and well drawn and there are some horrifyingly haunting scenes. But, oh dear, it did go on. Flanery explores the nature of guilt and redemption but, in spite of the importance of the setting and set-pieces like the long, stilted, quasi-legal discussion between Clare and her lawyer son toward the end of the book, I didn't find much insight here.

Flanery is also playing with the idea of memory and its failings and distortions with differing versions of events so that we are constantly unsure of what is fiction, what is lies and what are imperfect memories. This can work well in a story but and I found that it wore very thin in the end and didn't really say much of importance. Then, close to the end of the book Clare says "Perhaps the literal truth is not what you have remembered, but the truth of memory is no less accurate in its way." This is nonsense dressed up as profundity. It may be no less important or influential, but no less *accurate*?
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Format: Kindle Edition
This wonderfully written book is so complex it's hard to give a full flavour of it in a short review. As Clare Wald, famous South African novelist, gives a series of interviews to her biographer, Sam Leroux, she begins a journey through her memories, re-assessing the part she has played in the lives of those around her. She is also writing an autobiographical fiction and we see all the different threads as we, like Clare, try to find the truth amidst the invention.

Clare's story, and Sam's, is told against the background of the role and position of the white South Africans during and after the struggle against apartheid. It is a search for truth that shows how memories are distorted and conflicting, how it is hard to distinguish whether motives are personal or political. The fear felt by the white community, whether real or exaggerated, pulses through the book allowing the author to examine questions of suspicion and trust.

As Clare and Sam search for their own redemption, the author has them echo the theme of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings designed to allow South Africa to face its past and look forward to its future. With the white South African regime having been one of the ogres of my youth, I was amazed at the way the author made me feel both sympathy and empathy for the white people caught up in these events. But this book isn't just about South Africa - the emotions and motivations of these characters are universal.

This is a wonderful book, all the more remarkable since it is the author's first. Assured, beautifully written and shocking in parts, it has left me with images that will stay with me for a long time. Sorrowful, filled with guilt and cruelty but echoing with hope, much like South Africa itself - in my opinion, this will be in the running for best book of 2012. Highly recommended.
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