This is Not Forgiveness

This is Not Forgiveness; Celia Rees; Bloomsbury; Feb 2012

Book summary(taken from Amazon UK): Everyone says that Caro is bad …but Jamie can’t help himself. He thinks of her night and day and can’t believe that she wants to be his girlfriend. Gorgeous, impulsive and unconventional, she is totally different to all the other girls he knows. His sister, Martha, hates her. Jamie doesn’t know why, but there’s no way he’s going to take any notice of her warnings to stay away from Caro. But as Jamie falls deeper and deeper under her spell, he realises there is more to Caro – much more. There are the times when she disappears and doesn’t get in touch, the small scars on her wrists, her talk about revolutions and taking action, not to mention the rumours he hears about the other men in her life. And then always in the background there is Rob, Jamie’s older brother, back from Afghanistan and traumatised after having his leg smashed to bits there. Jamie wants to help him, but Rob seems to be living in a world of his own and is increasingly difficult to reach. With Caro, the summer should have been perfect …but that isn’t how things work out in real life, and Jamie is going to find out the hard way. This taut psychological drama is the brilliant new novel from acclaimed Celia Rees. 

Literature for Lads review:
Prior to ‘This is Not Forgiveness’ Celia Rees’ novels have all had a historical theme running through them therefore this thoroughly contemporary, gritty, psychological thriller is somewhat a departure from what we have come to expect from her.  The change in direction however appears to have been a wise move as this is a gripping page turner of a novel. With reference to the war in Afghanistan and the student riots of the Summer of 2011 the book is contemporary in feel. It opens with an amazingly powerful and moving first chapter which cleverly entices us into the gripping story of Jamie, Rob and Caro.

The narrative of the book is told through the three alternating viewpoints of Jamie, Rob and Caro.  We hear the thoughts of Jamie; lovestruck yet naive, are given rare glimpses into the diary of Caro; teenage anarchist; and Rob fresh from active service in Afghanistan, shares his video diaries with us.  Each of the characters lives are cleverly entwined and it becomes clear that as the book progresses our three main characters are heading towards a inevitable collision.

After the intriguing first chapter we could be forgiven for thinking we are reading a love story as we watch Jamie’s infatuation with the mysterious Caro play out. Convinced that Caro is ‘out of his league’ he watches her from afar.  However when Caro makes her intentions for him clear we realise that our story is about to take an interesting turn. It’s soon apparent that Caro plans to use Jamie as a pawn in the game she is playing.

Caro is somewhat a loner and rebel. Disliked by Jamie’s sister, Martha, she maintains an air of mystery.  With an absent mother and a father who is dead she has much more freedom than a normal teenager.  Young and impressionable she has fallen in with a group of anarchists and as Caro and Jamie’s relationship continues, every so often we are given a glimpse into the life of Rob, Jamie’s older brother.

A soldier who served in Afghanistan, Rob has left the army on medical grounds and is struggling to adapt to life back on ‘civvy street.’  Bitter about his experiences of war it’s clear that his mental state is precariously balanced.  Manipulated by Caro for her own ends we slowly witness Rob’s life spiral out of control.

Throughout the book we are only given small glimpses of Caro’s thoughts but it is clear she is the central crux to this story. Through the thoughts of Jamie and with Rob’s dialogue from his video diaries we discover that she is in fact emotionally involved with both brothers – both being manipulated for her own gains.

With Caro’s rebellious instincts, impressionable mind  and Rob’s precarious mental state, Rees creates a perfect storm.  She cleverly builds the tension as the impending tempest gets ever closer yet still manages to keep us guessing to what exactly Caro and Rob have planned. Only as the story reaches its conclusion do we begin to see the reasons behind the harrowing opening to the book.

It’s fair to say that none of the characters in this book are likeable, in fact Caro is at points detestable, yet they are believable and engaging.  The plot is gripping and Rees has captured the tension and anarchy of the student protests from the Summer of 2011 expertly. In addition she raises questions not only about the war in Afghanistan but how soldiers can struggle to adapt to civilian life. These ingredients combine to make this book a real page turner which is sure to resonate with teenagers and proves that Rees made the right choice in embarking on a different angle for this novel.

Marks out of 10: 8

Here is the trailer for the book…

For more information on Celia Rees visit her website here