Thursday, December 31, 2009

Headlong. Ruthless.

I have had this book for many years, so many that I can't remember, although the initial publication date was 2001. Then the movie came out and I studiously avoided any mention of what happened, who did what, how the book turned out.

I wanted to discover it for myself, for one of the few pleasures of reading is turning pages, building up anticipation, hardly waiting for the climactic denouement and knowing that no pages can be skipped, that a reader must doggedly keep at it until the last page is turned. I wanted to savor a story.

It centers around forgiveness, the lack of it, repentance, atoning for one's errors and misjudgments and sins and mistakes. It's our lives that this book reveals, for as I've gotten older I realize that life really is all about repenting of mistakes, forgiving others for theirs.

Briony, the center of this book, is a young girl of 13 when the novel opens and she wants to be a writer. She's begun by writing plays, stories, and in her mind, struggling to see the future, half-seeing it, half-imagining it. She takes after her mother in this regard, and in one scene, the mother--fighting off a migraine--lays in her bed and imagines that:
"There was a presence in the room, her aggrieved, overlooked ten-year-old self, a girl even quieter than Briony, who used to wonder at the massive emptiness of time. . . . It was haunting Emily once more. Briony was her last, and nothing between now and the grave would be as elementally important or pleasurable as the care of a child. . . and she, Emily, would grow stiffer in the limbs and more irrelevant by the day; . . . And here was the ghost of her childhood, diffused throughout the room, to remind her of the limited arc of existence. How quickly the story was over. Not massive and empty at all, but headlong. Ruthless." (141-2)
The tangled web of mother, father, family, lovers, war, sacrifice, error, injustice all combined to propel me through the book. I finished last night, interested in the structure that was built, yet dismantled in the end.

I do recommend it.

1 comment:

Alice said...

I picked this up in the Joburg airport on my travels from Ghana to Kenya...started reading it but somehow lost interest...or the book got packed away with others during one of my million moves...I wimped out and never finished it and saw the movie. Jared read the book after seeing the movie and enjoyed it and compared and contrasted it for me:)