The old scary Celia Rees is back. I’m not saying Celia is old, nor very scary in herself; simply that she’s back where she used to be, scaring me before the historical novels took over. And I’m going to say this with the very best of intentions, but This Is Not Forgiveness could have been written by a man.
What I’m saying is that if I didn’t know, I’d think the author was male. That’s neither good nor bad, just interesting. It shows how Celia has burrowed down into the male psyche, and made everything work. That’s what top notch authors do.
They also make people miss their stations. I rarely do, but found to my horror that I had arrived and needed to get off the train, but was in the middle of TINF. It was a case of quickly gathering up book and everything else and jump.
I’m incredibly impressed with the research Celia must have done. Not only is she inside the heads of her characters, but she knows a lot about weapons and tactics, war injuries and politics. For us oldies there is an unexpected return to the Baader Meinhof group, as well as to the kind of thinking that went on back then.
TINF is so much more than merely a book about an injured hero from Afghanistan, or about a group of young people one long, hot summer. The reason I mentioned sex was that two of the three main characters are male, and the story is very much seen from their point of view, along with a most atypical female character.
Caro is rich and beautiful, but otherwise not at all what you’d expect. Not popular with girls but desired by boys (and men), highly intelligent and with an unusual interest in politics. Jamie and Rob are brothers and they both want Caro. Jamie is still at school and a lovely teenager, while Rob came back injured from the war and finds adapting to civilian life hard.
It’s what happens between the three of them that has such catastrophic consequences. You know from the start that bad things are coming, because Jamie is at home, ‘talking’ to an urn which contains Rob’s ashes. You can almost guess what will happen, but not how or exactly why and when.
That’s what keeps you reading, at the cost of missed railway stations.