In Flanery’s debut literary fiction, Sam Leroux has a publisher’s assignment to write the biography of a famous South African author, Clare Wald, imperious, reticent, evasive about her writing and disinclined to discuss her catastrophic personal life.
A native South African, Sam is a writer and scholar residing in the United States. Sam flies to meet the reluctant Clare, who resides in his native Cape Town, a fractious city where have-nots confront razor-wire–topped walls behind which the rich have imprisoned themselves. Told from alternating points of view, the novel shifts from unsettled present to bloody past, from today’s fractured economic and social environment to the historic struggle to end apartheid. That ugly fight for democracy consumed the lives of Clare’s sister and daughter and Sam’s parents. Guilt, fear and regret keep Sam and Clare from confronting their mutual history of loss and love, deceit and despair. Unbeknownst to Sam, Clare has already written Absolution, a “fictionalized memoir,” which will be published only because the circumspect Clare agreed to an official biography. Ghosts hover each time Sam and Clare meet, and Clare’s cathartic expulsion of her truths comes in flashes. Flanery has constructed a haunting labyrinth of mirrors, fact reflecting remembrance, lie reflecting evasion.
Complex in theme, complex in narrative, this is a masterful literary exploration of the specter of conscience and the formidable cost of reconciliation.