In this stylish, haunting novel, journalist and novelist Lawrence Osborne explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of Moroccan Muslims and Western visitors who converge on a luxurious desert villa for a decadent weekend-long party.
David and Jo Henniger, a doctor and children's book author, in search of an escape from their less than happy lives in London, accept the invitation of their old friends Richard and Dally to attend their annual bacchanal at their home deep in the Moroccan desert a ksar they have acquired and renovated into a luxurious retreat. On the way, the Hennigers stop for lunch, and the bad-tempered David can't resist consuming most of a bottle of wine. Back on the road, darkness has descended, David is groggy, and the directions to the ksar are vague. Suddenly, two young men spring from the roadside, apparently attempting to interest passing drivers in the fossils they have for sale. Panicked, David swerves toward the two, leaving one dead on the road and the other running into the hills.
At the ksar, the festivities have begun: Richard and Dally's international friends sit down to a lavish dinner prepared and served by a large staff of Moroccans. As the night progresses and the debauchery escalates, the Moroccans increasingly view the revelers as the godless "infidels" they are. When David and Jo show up late with the dead body of the young man in their car, word spreads among the locals that David has committed an unforgivable act.
Thus the stage is set for a weekend during which David and Jo must come to terms with David's misdeed, Jo's longings, and their own deteriorating relationship, and the flamboyant Richard and Dally must attempt to keep their revelers entertained despite growing tension from their staff and the Moroccan Berber father who comes to claim his son's body.
With spare, evocative prose, searing eroticism, and a gift for the unexpected, Osborne memorably portrays the privileged guests wrestling with their secrets amidst the remoteness and beauty of the desert landscape. He also gradually reveals the jolting back-story of the young man who was killed and leaves David's fate in the balance as the novel builds to a shattering conclusion.
At its core The Forgiven sets out to be a story about the clash of values - between east and west. But the Westerners at least, seem so tone-deaf to the cultural mores of Morocco that clashes, if any, seem contrived...What Osborne really succeeds in doing is writing a terrific travelogue - which is unsurprising considering that he is an experienced travel writer. The Moroccan desert comes superbly alive in the novel - every detail is meticulously outlined...The novel is worth reading for this reason alone. (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Extraordinarily acute to human nature….Stylishness holds the book together, and makes all the bits of plot machinery feel new again….There are enough ways to read the book that one finishes it and immediately wants to start it again.
New York Times
This is a lean book that moves like a panther. Even better, Mr. Osborne has a keen and sometimes cruel eye for humans and their manners and morals, and for the natural world. You can open to almost any page and find brutally fine observations…surprising and dark and excellent.
Starred Review. Osborne comes up with an ending that's at the same time ironic, surprising and completely fitting. A gripping read with moral ambiguity galore.
Starred Review. With nods to Paul Bowles and Evelyn Waugh, Osborne portrays the vacuity of high society as gorgeously and incisively as he does the unease of cultures thrust together in the unforgiving desert.
[A] brilliant, unsentimental rendering of contemporary East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche….Osborne has done an extraordinary job of capturing moral complexity, never letting his characters or his readers off easy. The result should be grim reading, but instead it’s vivifying. Highly recommended.
Nikita Lalwani, author of Gifted
The prose of The Forgiven has a very particular, knowing luminosity, much like the tarnished world it describes. A beautiful, compelling book to savor line by line.
Kate Christensen, author of The Epicure's Lament and The Astral The Forgiven shines darkly with a rich and mordant fatalism. Osborne's characters emerge like people in a dream – diamond-sharp but fascinatingly askew. His prose is gorgeous and precise; the story slices keenly through the exotic haze of its setting. It's an absolutely brilliant novel – the ending is a shock in the best way.
The Forgiven is, in part, a wonderful travelogue which explores deep into the heart of Morocco, in particular into the lives of the Moroccan fossil diggers.
Morocco is rich in a variety of fossils and because parts of the country's Anti-Atlas mountains (a part of the Atlas mountains also called Lesser Atlas or Little Atlas) date back more than 500 million years they are overflowing with them. Limestones from the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian periods abound. During the early Cambrian period, as improbable as it might seem now, these parts of Morocco were covered by sea, and animals such as trilobites were extremely common. Trilobites are extinct marine arthropods with an exoskeleton. Because their skeletons were hard and resisted compaction, they were easily fossilized within these limestone rocks. Trilobite fossils are found all over the world but they are especially abundant in the regions of Morocco that The Forgiven visits - Erfoud and the rural Tafilat area in the southeast part of the country.
A spectacular true odyssey through the extremes of the Sahara Desert in the early 19th century. Reader and protagonist alike are challenged into new ways of understanding culture clash, slavery and the place of Islam in the social fabric of desert-dwelling peoples.
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