Friday, 13 September 2013

Review: May We Be Forgiven

May We Be Forgiven
A M Homes

Women's Prize for Fiction winner

'As much as you think you know somebody, there are some things that one never knows.'

Somehow I managed to go from one story of forgiveness (The Crane Wife) to another. Forgiveness seems to be the order of the day. But it would be impossible to compare the treatment of the topic in these two startlingly different novels. May We Be Forgiven is dark, it's humorous, it verges on being bleak but ultimately I want to call it a feel-good book. Controversial? Perhaps, but I'm sticking with it.

When Harold and his brother's wife share an adulterous kiss at thanksgiving they prompt a chain of unexpected events. Harold and his brother, George, are both forced into new lives, new roles and new situations through which they must seek absolution.

I was sceptical about this novel. Don't ask why, sometimes I just take a dislike to a book without having any valid reason. Nevertheless, I had fully retracted my scepticism by the time I was about 50 pages in. This book is good. Scary good. Homes gave me some Deep Thoughts and wrote characters that I have very strong feelings for (both positive and negative) and the combination of these with the story gave me one of those wow/gobsmacked moments as I finished the last page. 

George and Harold are both horrible people. George particularly, but Harold is so subtly horrible that you almost miss it in the shadow of George's outright murderous attitude. I did not like Harold, I thought he was manipulative, angry, obsessive and destructive. Even as the novel progresses and he seemed to grow as a person I still disliked him and found it increasingly amusing how many unfortunate events seemed to befall him. Does that make me as bad as him? Arguably. Whether I like him or not, he has this wonderful knack of bringing people together. By the time Cy and Madeline come into the story and after the quietly cataclysmic trip to South Africa I was convinced that forgiveness is possible, even for people I doubted could deserve it. Forgiveness is acceptance in this novel. It is being able to look beyond all the crap that happens in the past and know that people, your family, your friends still accept who you are. I even forgave Harold in the end.

I loved the deadpan narration and the fact that they're all a little mad. I loved the absurdity of Harold's life. I loved the depth of emotion underneath the black comedy. I loved the ultimate message about family and forgiveness. I loved Nate and Ashley. I loved Harold's mother. I loved the writing that was occasionally so poetic it jumped off the page and gave me a shock. I loved the way the ending mirrors the beginning but with such different results. I loved Tessie. I loved the cat. I loved the historical tidbits about Nixon. Basically, I loved this book.

Fancy a black comedy about the American Dream and all-American family? Go for this. It does what it says on the tin but surprises you with some feel-good chills that remind you that absolution is possible.



  1. Oooh, interesting. I DNFed This Book Will Save Your Life by Homes for NO GOOD REASON (I didn't like the first, like, 10 pages, and I wanted to get rid of books and I didn't have a good reason for having bought that one in the first place, so yeah) But this actually sounds really interesting and I might have to give it a go!

    1. WHAAAT? Laura, that's one of my favourite books! I think Bob Dylan's in it and everything. And donuts! *slopes off miserably*

  2. I think "a feel-good book" is pretty accurate description, although yes quite controversial. I loved the dark humour and deadpan-ness of the whole story :)

  3. Controversial? Black deadpan humour? A.M. Homes? YES PLEASE. As I just wailed petulantly at Laura further up the comments, I adored This Book Will Save Your Life, and this one sounds equally brilliant. As soon as I've read Jack (which has been on my shelves since I finished TBWSYL) this one can take its place on Mount TBR!

  4. This is the first time that the winner of the Orange Prize (Women's Prize) hasn't appealed to me at all. Your review has opened my mind towards it a bit....

  5. Thanks for reminding me I want to read this one. I loved A.M. Homes' This Book Will Save Your Life when I read it a few years ago, and I've a couple of others by her on my to read pile too, including one that I bought in Strand Bookstore in NYC :) Happy memories! Glad you liked this one a lot.


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