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3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  543 ratings  ·  135 reviews
In this stunning literary debut, Patrick Flanery delivers a devastating and intimate portrait of post-apartheid South Africa, and the perils of taking sides when the sides are changing around you.

Told in shifting perspectives, Absolution is centred on the mysterious character of Clare Wald, a controversial writer of great fame, haunted by the memories of a sister she fears...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Knopf Canada (first published January 1st 2012)
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Friederike Knabe
Patrick Flanery's debut novel is a very interesting example of an overarching story that incorporates another "novel" or "memoir", a journal and more embedded inside it... Set in post-apartheid South Africa Absolution is a thought provoking book, and engaging not necessarily, or least of all, in the sense one would initially expect. Much of the novel could be set in any other country that lived through two opposing government systems. While there are hints of the political realities of South Afr...more
This is a story of lives lived in ways which give cause for regret. This is becoming a genre. Ian McEwan talked about Atonement. Here the quest is for Absolution. In both cases memory and remembrances are fluid. They are fuzzy or not reliable. The quests for Atonement and Absolution become larger, more significant then the events that precipitated the need.
Will this bring us to The Sense of an Ending? All of these books are characterised by muddy memories and relative truths, and unreliable auth...more
Absolution – set in post-apartheid South Africa – is so searing, well-plotted, moving and provocative that it is nearly impossible to believe that it is a debut book. In some important ways, it contains wisps of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, a book that similarly centers around the break-in of a home,

The theme is, indeed, Absolution, the freeing from blame, guilt and consequences. Nearly every key character in Absolution is seeking forgiveness, either from the living or the dead, and as such, they ar...more
James Murphy
Near the end of Patrick Flanery's novel Absolution is a short discourse on the inability of history to tell all the stories and about the truth that memory always tells. The two points are at the heart of Flanery's complex novel. It's a novel about modern South Africa set a dozen years ago when the Truth and Reonciliation Commission was working hard at damage control after the long, hard years of apartheid. But it's one in which racial injustices aren't the focus. The narrative follows, instead,...more
Jan 05, 2013 Elaine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
This is a book of extraordinary power and intensity. I don't know if I was more surprised to learn that the author was a first-time novelist or that he was not South African -- the book conveys an amazing nuanced sense of place and history, and is written with serious maturity and talent. This book will break your heart, with its tales of betrayal, loss and missed chances, both historical and familial, and stretch your mind, as the maze of its interconnecting narratives show just how flimsy hist...more
Patrick Flanery: Will you marry me? How I loved this novel! So much so that I am even willing to forgive your flagrantly Irish name and risk my father's English wrath.

In post-apartheid South Africa, acclaimed author Clare Wald and aspiring writer Sam Leroux come face to face -- as author and subject, as the rejecter and the rejected, as human beings coming to terms with painful ambiguous pasts. Both are suffering from the scars of apartheid and also (...I think?) from a too fierce loyalty to the...more
Heather Noble
The story is about post apartheid South Africa but it's focus is on the devastating impact the politics has on a family as they adopt different positions. It's one of those fascinating books in which the way the story is told from multiple points of view persuades the reader to consider the tale from different perspectives. Versions of the facts differ depending on how much the narrator is willing to admit to the listener or to his or her self and may also change depending at which point of time...more
Barry Gilder
There is no doubt that this book is beautifully written, cleverly structured, delicately observed and well-worth getting to the end of. (I read it in two days).

It tells the story of a white South African man, academically educated in the United States, who returns to post-apartheid South Africa to engage with an elderly white South African woman author as a prelude to writing her biography. As the story unfolds the complex historical and personal interconnections between Clare - the woman author...more
"Dostoevsky says that everyone remembers things he would only confide to his friends, and other things he would only reveal to himself...But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself." In Absolution a first novel about memory and guilt and censorship, the author has produced a stunning, compelling tale of an aging South African author, Clare, and her biographer, Sam, told in multiple points of view. Absolution brought the country and its tragic past to life as much as...more
Clare Wald is a South African author coming to the end of her life who has agreed to be involved in the writing of her biography. It is to be written by Sam Leroux, a fellow South African now returning to the country of his birth after some years' absence. Revisiting the past brings up old secrets for both of them and they must be truthful with themselves about the part they played in disturbing events.

This novel has four different narrative strands, which makes things complicated at times, espe...more
Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Absolution focuses on a series of meetings between elderly writer, Clare Wald, and her recently-appointed biographer, Samuel Leroux. However at the real heart of the novel lies the fate of Laura, Clare's daughter.

Missing, presumed dead, Laura was actively involved in the liberation struggle and her life intersected dramatically with Sam's childhood, though we only learn the full significance of this intersection as the novel progresses and the truth about Sam...more
Kasa Cotugno
One of the best books I've read. There are three major characters, two of whom, Sam and Clare, are unreliable narrators, and Clare's daughter Laura who lives only in their memory. The intricate, violent, complicated final days of apartheid in South Africa are rendered in four platforms, through narrative fiction and memoir. Lies are told and truths distorted.

The story unravels but not in Roshomon fashion. The truth is elusive, as elusive as memories of Laura and her motivations. What is truly r...more
I really don't like giving bad reviews and wish I could give this 2.5 stars just to be neutral. I'm surprised that so many people have commented on how well he has portrayed South Africa and South Africans, as I found myself cringing regularly at the little things he gets wrong. That said, I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for someone to write perfectly about a place and people that are not their own - so, he should be congratulated on doing as well as he did.

Patrick Flaner...more
Absolution implies that there is a sin to be absolved. And guilt too, for the need to be absolved. I saw guilt in plenty, not so much the sin. I sure did not see any absolution. This is not an easy read. Flanery is writing about a difficult subject, in a technique that is difficult to read and to me, took away from the experience.

The story is of Clare Wald, a South African author, who may or may not have been involved in committing a murder for political or personal reasons. She has commissioned...more
I guess that this review will go against the grain of all the other reviews. I almost stopped reading the book but forced myself to go to at least page 50; by then the storyline had begun to take shape. I think the problem for me is that this is in part an intellectual book, and I generally prefer to read mysteries and action oriented books. At times it was painful for me to witness the Clare and Sam not being able to come out with what they were thinking. Clare was an especially inconsistent ch...more
I had to force myself to give this book 100 pages before I let myself give up on it. The beginning was very jumbly and confusing - which I think the author meant to use as a technique to give the reader a feel for the multiple angles and confusion caused by trying to figure things out in hindsight, as well as from multiple points of view. It took that 100 pages for me to really sink into the groove of the story, to understand the perspectives and to care about the characters. I'm glad I read it,...more
Watched Altman's Short Cuts and Iñárritu's Amores Perros - great films - to understand better the writing. Here's quoting the author: "When I write, I see what I am describing in a filmic way, always conscious of where my own mental 'camera' is placed, who is watching, which character's perspective is privileged, and when a scene or chapter needs to end. While there are numerous literary antecedents for the multi-voiced novel, one might also compare the way Absolution moves between its own four...more
really dense and rather slow pace, but also incredibly in-depth look at "finding the truth". for a first novel it is just wow. plot is a writer interviews a writer about her book(s) while also writing his own book, and all are simultaneously exposing and hiding "the truth". course in south africa, those truths take on a horrific, almost science fiction ghoulishness. super accomplished first novel, but took forever to get through.
Jeanette (Most of My Favorite Authors Are Dead)
Choppy and confusing. Every few pages it changes point of view, locale, time frame, and verb tense. Heavy use of present tense narration, of which I am generally not a fan.

If you dislike the use of second-person narration, ("You smile at me and nod your head."), this book will try your patience.
Sam Leroux kehrt nach Jahren im Ausland in seine Heimat Südafrika zurück. Als kaum herausragender Kenner ihres Werks will er eine Biografie über Clare Wald schreiben, die (fiktive) große alte Dame der südafrikanischen Literatur. Für Sam verspricht der Auftrag der entscheidende letzte Schritt auf dem Weg zu einer Professorenstelle zu sein. Clare Wald verhält sich Sam gegenüber abweisend, obwohl ihr bewusst sein müsste, dass ihr nicht mehr viele Zeit bleibt ihren Nachlass zu ordnen. Als Leser ahnt...more
An astonishing debut novel of post-Apartheid Africa viewed from 4 perspectives, alternating chapters, between an elderly South African author who is in her words "a flawed mother"; her assumed-dead, rebel, anti-Apartheid daughter; and the author's biographer, Sam (Lawrence) Leroux. The themes of redemption, censorship, and the regrets of mothers whose "higher cause" forfeit a fulfilled mother's role are brilliantly and seamlessly woven throughout this tragic tale.

Clare Wald, has reluctantly agr...more
“...and now her face is wind-cracked, a lake bottom in drought” (6).
“'Please remember to lower the seat when you've finished. It will encourage my sympathy'” (6).
“'In my experience, governments mostly take very little notice of what private citizens have to say, unless they say it in unison'” (7).
“His mother had read him the book and he knew what happened to orphans if they asked for more” (33).
“'Under such conditions, one cannot even begin to put pen to paper in the morning without weighing the...more
Jillian Goldberg
I was very disappointed with this book, particularly as I had waited a year to get it from Amazon, no idea why, perhaps the paperback was only published recently. The initial review I had read was so exciting and I had tremendous expectations.
I found the language and craft peculiar at times; there were inexplicable errors in syntax, bits that were just odd. I also found the characters completely unbelievable and terribly annoying in every respect. I wanted to just slap them all! While the physic...more
One of the "Waterstones 11" this year (best debut novels of 2012) this book is beautifully written, with scenes that will haunt you. But if you like your books with a clear narrative, and a beginning, middle and end, this one most definitely isn’t for you. There are four repeating chapter headings, each giving a different view or perspective, but the central theme is that of Sam Leroux returning to South Africa to write a biography of ageing writer Clare Wald. If this is one thread, there are th...more
I won a copy of this book as a First Reads Giveaway.

This is an impressive debut novel from Patrick Flanery. It tells the story of Clare Wald, a controversial South African writer who has spent years trying to escape certain events in her past and particularly the memories of her murdered sister and missing daughter. It is also the story of Sam Leroux, the young man Clare has hired to be her biographer and who has more in common with her than she may realize. As the two continue to meet and work...more
Leary Blaine
Apr 04, 2013 Leary Blaine rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Literary fiction readers
You've really gotta want it! (But if you do, it's worth it.)

Absolution is absolutely a lovely character study and a touching and ultimately sensitive look into the lives of some pretty complicated people. In the scope of all fiction, it's wonderfully well crafted. In the category of literary fiction, I would put it middle-of-the-pack. The book it most reminds me of is Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: tons of character development, but very little action to propel things along.

That's why I...more
Considering the author is not a South African he does a remarkable job of characterising the country and in small brush strokes manages to convey a cast of authentic characters. The small details that contextualise the story and offer a sense of place led me to believe he was South African. In one scene he accurately lists the typing of reading material found on the bookshelves of every South African home during the Apartheid era. Clare Wald, the writer around whom the story unfolds, is arguably...more
Mlle Alice, pouvez-vous nous raconter votre rencontre avec Absolution?

"Ce livre m'a été proposé par Robert Laffont, que je remercie, et j'avoue que dès la couverture, j'ai senti qu'il s'y cachait quelque chose d'intense."

Dites-nous en un peu plus sur son histoire...

"Clare Wade, une romancière et une vieille dame d'Afrique du Sud, accepte de recevoir chez elle Sam Leroux, jeune universitaire qui écrit sa biographie. Mais au milieu de ces entretiens et de ces questions banales, chacun cache des...more
Jakey Gee
Really impressive. This is an extremely well written and mature piece. Amazingly, it’s his first novel (though he does have the odd, oh, doctorate in literature…so he kind of knows his onions).

As the blurb has said, it’s thriller meets meditation on literature, meets State of the Rainbow Nation. The South African Apartheid- era context is fascinating in all its ugliness and violence – boy, has he done his research. And it’s a pretty accurate picture (judging by the non-fiction I’ve read over re...more
I chose Absolution by Patrick Flanery based on a review of this book in the Omaha World-Herald. It was just vague enough to entice me and I also wanted the opportunity to compare my thoughts with the reviewer's once I finished reading it myself.

The review appeared on July 22, 2012. I downloaded the book to my Kindle Fire immediately and only just finished it.

This was one of the most difficult-to-finish novels I have read in quite some time. It was slow, confusing and I never felt like it was go...more
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Patrick Flanery was born in California in 1975 and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. After earning a BFA in Film from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts he worked for three years in the film industry before moving to the UK, where he completed a doctorate in Twentieth-Century English Literature at the University of Oxford. As well as publishing scholarly articles on British and South African...more
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