Monday, January 14, 2013

Escape as Illusion: THE FORGIVEN

Under a shattering sky

Lawrence Osborne, I can't decide if I want to shake your hand or slap your face. 

Your new novel, THE FORGIVEN, has done the unforgivable – and great thing – of shattering one of my last illusions. The belief that – should everything go tits up – I could flee urban America and be healed in some cheap, foreign idyll. 

The nutshell plot:  David and Jo, a middle-aged couple on the skids, head off from London to see their stylish gay friends, Richard and Dally, at their Moroccan compound. Along the way, something terrible happens. Upon arrival, they join a gaggle of ambitious pretenders and hedonistic fatalists, hash in the air, too-loud flirtations on offer, and everyone deciding whether to even bother asking themselves:  Where do we go from here? 

It's a wrenching, worthwhile read. 

I met Osborne maybe seven or eight years ago. Enormously tall with a wooly mop of curly hair and a throaty laugh that shook the rafters, I wonder how he could ever be an unobtrusive observer anywhere. But he's clearly mixed in this desperado ex-pat milieu. 

From page 108:

They went past an open space with people dancing. David watched them as if he were deaf, as if the music didn't exist, which made it a horrible sight. People jiffing about like epileptics. He loved only the smell of the expensive perfume on the women's bodies, sweated off and floating free. Why hadn't they gone to Rome instead? This very moment, they could be sitting down at Ristorante 59 on Via Angelo Brunetti and ordering a nice cold bottle of Greco di Tufa. What a mistake he had made in coming here. But he had made it for Jo, and he was sure it would "mend her," as he so often put it to himself. Everyone can be a fool. 

She needed a break, a real break. She hadn't written anything in years. She was bitterly unhappy, and maybe it was mostly because of him, but there it was – one should never deviate from what one really likes. The whole idea of "exploring" as an earnest moral project is pitifully ridiculous, and it always leads to failure, if not acute suffering. What a fool he'd been. There was no need to travel at all, really, except to go somewhere more beautiful, which for David meant an Italian or a French city with a better way of life than London or New York. Places with better food, calmer dynamics, better architecture. You went there and recharged your batteries. You drank and ate unreasonably, with no though to what you would look like next week with fatter love handles, and that was good. Life was better for a while, so you got your money's worth. Most of the rest of the world, on the other hand, was just hassle. Perhaps he just didn't understand it.

I'm afraid Osborne's internal dialogue for Jo on page 142 is eerily similar to occasional visits to my own rubber room upstairs. It's just too close to reprint. Read it yourself.  And perhaps weep.