This Is Not Forgiveness
Early summer, a busy café and an oddly alluring girl… from the moment Jamie first sees Caro he’s smitten, despite the warning signals blaring at him from every direction. Caro is a bad girl, strange and a bit wicked. At least so says his sister and the local gossips. Yet Jamie cannot stay away from her. His brother, Rob, laughs at him, tells him that Caro is out of his league but Rob has his own problems. Badly injured while serving in Afghanistan, he finds himself lost and functionless. Until, that is, Caro sets her sights on him as well as Jamie.
This Is Not Forgiveness is quite a departure from the historical fiction that Celia Rees usually writes and a successful one at that. Told from three separate points of view a story unfolds of heartbreak, betrayal, love, loss and war wounds that run deep. It is by no means an easy read, nor a happy story but it is certainly a tale worth reading as it will give readers much to think about.
While the novel is told from the points of view of Jamie, Rob and Caro, it is Jamie who is the core protagonist and it is through his narrative that the other two stories are woven. He’s at heart a nice guy, doing his time at six form college with a canny eye on his future. Until Caro appears on the scene, his only real concern is Rob, a brother who inspires in him affection, fear and pity in equal measure. As Caro becomes increasingly involved in his life his actions reflect both confusion and caution – he seems always to be walking on thin ice and his conflict is never anything but believable.
Caro is never a particularly likable character nor, it would seem, is she meant to be. Strikingly single minded she thinks nothing of manipulating those around her to her own purpose, regardless of consequence. Cool, collected and controlling she has intentionally closed herself off from emotion and seems driven only by grand and somewhat uneducated plans. Caro is the hardest character to get to know in This Is Not Forgiveness but as she emerges it becomes clear that this is a girl desperate to be noticed, to make her mark and to not be left behind.
While Jamie and Caro carry much of the narrative it is Rob whose voice is strongest in This Is Not Forgiveness. Lacking the education of Jamie’s voice and the navel-gazing quality of Caro’s he is, in many ways, the one voice of utter honesty. A born soldier, his injury has rendered him useless in his eyes. As he sinks further into a world of nightmares, alcohol and bar fights his conflict is tangible and heart-breaking. Yet he is not a nice man. He himself suspects that his propensity towards violence verges on the sociopathic and he seems to be in constant conflict not just with the world at large but also with himself. This, combined with his feeling of betrayal by the army and the government governs his life leaving him, like Caro, desperate to have his voice heard.
The writing in This Is Not Forgiveness is excellent. The story itself is fairly simple, each narrative strand drawing readers towards the dramatic finale, but the themes that Celia Rees concentrates on are far from straight-forward. Most obviously she highlights the plight of those returning from conflict bearing scars, whether mental, physical or both, who find themselves isolated and abandoned. Using this as her basis, Rees then weaves a cautionary tale of the extremes individuals can go to when they feel ignored, disenfranchised and powerless. It’s a sobering tale and one worth reading for, as a fable for modern times, This Is Not Forgiveness rings sadly true.
This Is Not Forgiveness is available on 2nd February. Thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this title to review and for facilitating the UK-wide giveaway. Please be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour and have a gander at the trailer to further whet your appetite!