What’s it all about?:
A darkly comic novel of twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation
Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his younger brother, George, a taller, smarter, and more successful high-flying TV executive acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. But Harry, a historian and Nixon scholar, also knows George has a murderous temper, and when George loses control the result is an act of violence so shocking that both brothers are hurled into entirely new lives in which they both must seek absolution.
Harry finds himself suddenly playing parent to his brother’s two adolescent children, tumbling down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, dealing with ageing parents who move through time like travellers on a fantastic voyage. As Harry builds a twenty-first-century family created by choice rather than biology, we become all the more aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and either compel us to repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.
May We Be Forgiven is an unnerving, funny tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together.
What did I think?:
This novel won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2013, now termed Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and previously was known as the Orange Prize for Fiction, launched back in 1996 and celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing worldwide. First of all, I can’t believe I am only getting to this book now, I absolutely loved it and am now on a mission to read A.M. Homes entire back catalogue of work. I normally know if I am going to like a novel fairly early in and in this case, I knew by page 12 that I was going to love it, a fact that both surprised and delighted me.
Our protagonist is a middle-aged man called Harold Silver whom throughout his life always felt like he was playing second fiddle to his brother George who had been incredibly lucky in comparison, enjoying a well-paid job, a gorgeous wife, two children and an enviable home. Harry on the other hand seemed to barely scrape by in life by teaching a few classes on his favourite subject – the former President of the United States, Richard Nixon, of whom he is also attempting to write a book upon. Things take a dramatic turn for Harry quite early on however as a stolen, adulterated kiss is procured one Thanksgiving from his brother’s wife Jane. This one event and mistake on the part of Harry leads to both tragic and unprecedented consequences for both brothers, changing their lives dramatically and giving both something to atone for. Harry’s relationship (which wasn’t that stable to begin with) crumbles and he is left literally “holding the babies,” as the sole carer of his brother’s teenage children.
The journey Harry goes through is nothing short of remarkable and I loved how the author used a perfect blend of dark humour and sentiment to make the reader fall in love with a character that could previously have been described as un-likeable and a waste of time. Harry makes a momentous effort to make up for his past behaviours yet I think the author is very clever at reminding us that in the end he is a human being like everyone else and deserves the right to make mistakes and to learn from them. I couldn’t help but think of him as a modern hero in winning over his brother’s children and raising them as if they were his own, with clear moral and ethical values. Some of the things that Harry got up to in his private life were rather bizarre although very humourous, but again re-iterated how authentic Harry was as a character, flaws and all.
As this is my first book from A.M. Homes I’m not too certain how it compares to her other works but I found this a beautiful and quite moving account of a man striving to become a better person and piecing a fragmented family back together. The writing style is compelling, the idea and execution was ingenious and the characters so well drawn that I felt that I was reading about an old, beloved friend. I certainly didn’t want the book to end and when it did, was more than a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to read more about Harry! A fantastic and amusing read, and a well worthy winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):