Forbidden is Tabitha Suzuma’s new novel on that very dreaded subject, incest. I had been dreading it, while also knowing I had to read it. The dreading wasn’t because I disapprove, except I can’t sit here and say I actually approve, either. Of incest; not the novel.

But I just knew that however positive a novel Forbidden might be, it just couldn’t end well. And that’s a problem. It doesn’t end well. No spoiler there. You just couldn’t end with a happily-ever-after incestuous relationship, however much you’d want to.

And you do want to. Trust me.

It made me think of inter-racial relationships not so very long ago. They weren’t just frowned on; they were illegal. That has changed. Could this change too?

Maya and Lochan are sister and brother; 16 and 17 years old. They are lovely people, and they really do love each other. It’s not simply lust. I kept feeling they were just too lovely. But had they not been, we would have frowned on their relationship. As it is, we like them and feel for them and love them back.

They have a father who left years ago. They have an inadequate mother, who is almost never there at all. And they have three younger siblings who they look after, trying to keep the family from being torn apart by social services.

At first I wondered why Tabitha added this complication to the equation, but it’s necessary. They have to have something to fear, so they have to reign in their feelings. The way they play mum and dad to their siblings makes them impossibly good, and they are clever academically, and very mature when we read their thoughts, as we do.

But we do need to respect them. And they have a problem that is just not going to go away. It’s mainly a case of when it’s going to go bad, and how.

Until it does, it’s an almost happy story, with so much that is positive, if we discount the ghastly parents.

I’m not sure why Tabitha felt the compulsion to write this book. I’m guessing she thinks that incest is not quite as black and white as we mostly tend to believe. The question is whether society can rethink the rules and boundaries for this, too, in the way race has ceased to be the big problem it was. Or same-sex love.

Is this different?

7 responses to “Forbidden

  1. as a fellow writer, i have to bow to tabitha managing to write so well and sensitively about such a subject beyond belief. i really related to the brother and sister, having had a similar childhood, which made the ending even more … but i don’t want to spoil it for your readers. just to say doomed love never had it so doomed!

  2. oops – i probably should have said – similar childhood – in the sense of big family, looking after siblings … not the other stuff! heh heh

  3. Bit late for that now, Candy!

  4. I can’t imagine a time when society would find it acceptable and that’s why I think the book had to have a sad ending. But TS does not pass judgement on their relationship in the book, she merrily shows us how circumstances can lead to things, and that’s what makes the book so powerful. I really liked it, and often felt heartbroken when reading how much Maya and Lochan love their siblings and are desperate to keep them together.

  5. It’s slightly hard to see the rationale behind a total non-acceptance by society of this kind of relationship. The main argument against fraternal incest is inbreeding, and the potential genetic disorders this could pass on. But by that token, it would be frowned upon to have children if you knew you carried a genetic condition, or if you knew your chid would be disabled in some way. Which, of course, it isn’t (and hopefully never will be).

    So it’s definitely an interesting topic for discussion!

  6. I have read Tabitha’s book which I reviewed for Armadillo Magazine. Incest is a very difficult and controversial subject to tackle and Tabitha, ever a brave writer, does it very well.
    I do not think, however, that analogies can be made with previously taboo relationships. The taboo against incest and its illegality are not to do with social beliefs or prejudice. They are there because inbreeding carries serious risks, as Nick rightly points out. It might be worth reflecting on how much more common these genetic disorders would be if incest became legal and the taboo was lifted.

  7. I agree about the inbreeding, Celia, but I expect most people are resorting to plain old prejudice when it comes to ‘disliking’ incestuous relationships. In which case I feel the old (is it only old?) dislike for black and white couples comes in the same category.

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