Fragmented revelations

Absolution, by Patrick Flanery, Atlantic, RRP£12.99, 394 pages

Patrick Flanery’s fascinating debut centres on a series of interviews between Clare Wald, a Nadine Gordimer-like South African novelist, and Sam Leroux, her official biographer. Sam initially finds his subject to be frosty and irascible, but eventually she opens up about the influences on her work, from the failure of her marriage to the suffocating atmosphere of the Apartheid regime. As they become friends, we begin to suspect that there is more to their relationship than meets the eye.

Flanery’s narrative is fragmented: we are provided with each character’s record of their meetings – the accounts rarely cohere – along with excerpts from Clare’s fictionalised memoirs and Sam’s journal entries. The effect can be bewildering, but the reader’s patience is rewarded in the book’s revelatory final stages, which are taut and gripping. Absolution serves as proof, if any were needed, that a novel can be both unashamedly literary and compellingly readable – Man Booker judges, take note.

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