Thursday 22 December 2011


Awfully Big Reviews is taking a short break until the New Year. Thank you, writers and readers, for the wonderful range of books and other materials mentioned here over the last few months.

So here's wishing everyone - especially all the regular Reviewers - a most Happy Christmas and a cheering and comfortable New Year for 2012. With plenty of interesting reading, of course.

To conclude our Reviews for 2011, here's an excellent Awfully Big Guest Review from the Carnegie winning children's and Y/A author Linda Newbery.

 Best wishes from Penny Dolan and all the Awfully Big Review team.

Most of Celia Rees’ readers will know her through her excellent historical novels such as Witch Child, Sovay and The Fool’s Girl. But before Witch Child broke through to major success and well-deserved acclaim, its author specialised in contemporary thrillers, and she returns to this genre with her latest book.

This compelling new novel bears similarities to my favourite Celia Rees book, The Wish House (which is not meant to imply any criticism of This is not Forgiveness; just that The Wish House is the one I wish I’d written myself). Both have a somewhat gullible and inexperienced central male figure who is captivated by an intriguing, seductive girl. Both novels take place in the summer break from school, during which the boy is drawn into this girl’s world and experiences first love, first sex, first death, as the cover of The Wish House so memorably puts it. Both Richard in the earlier novel and Jamie in this one are irrevocably changed by their experiences, left with complicated feelings of shame and guilt.
Here, the seductive girl is more dangerous than Clio, the artist’s daughter in The Wish House. She is Caro, already viewed with suspicion and distaste by Jamie’s well-grounded sister, Martha, when Jamie takes up with her. From the moment Jamie meets Caro, we know that he’ll do whatever she wants. And she has the same effect on Jamie’s older brother, ex-soldier Rob, invalided out of the army and now left purposeless, but armed with knowledge of military tactics and equipment which Caro intends to put to practical use.

Having gone through a phase of Tarot-reading, she’s now moved on to Red Army Faction anarchism. She “doesn’t do love”, as she makes clear to both brothers; only sex; she is adept at keeping them both in thrall, playing one off against the other. When an idea presents itself as a way of emulating her idols in the Baader-Meinhof gang, she easily recruits Rob to her cause.

We know from the opening chapter, in which Jamie describes his brother’s bleak and sparsely-attended funeral, that Rob won’t survive. But who will he take with him?  The narrative is shared among the three characters; Jamie’s first-person account dominates, but is interspersed with Rob’s podcasts and Caro’s journal entries.

Such is Rees’ skill that the reader doesn’t feel capable of condemning either Rob or Caro; impressions must be constantly adjusted. As for the ending: the reader will certainly be waiting for the explosive situation to detonate, but will more than likely be as surprised as I was by how this happens.

 This is not Forgiveness is a powerful thriller which will readily engage its readers, but also it explores with painful honesty the overwhelming compulsion of teenage love and lust, the attraction of identifying with a cause to give some purpose to life, and the ways in which relationships can be manipulated and loyalties misplaced. It will surely be one of the most impressive young adult novels published this year.

Linda Newbery

Linda's new novel for Orion, THE TREASURE HOUSE, will be published in May 2012, along with reissues of THE SANDFATHER and CATCALL, with new covers. THE DAMAGE DONE, one of Linda's own favourite young adult titles is now available as a Kindle edition



Penny Dolan said...

Am so busy with seasonal panic that I forgot to tell you when Awfully Big Review next appears: Tuesday 2nd January, 2012. See you then!

adele said...

Quite agree with this review! TisNF is fabulous and should sweep all before it next year, I reckon. And would make a good movie too.

Sol Loreto-Miller said...

From what I heard & read at Arvon and now this, this sounds like an amazing book! I shall have to try and get hold of it when it comes out. Brilliant review :)

Susan Price said...

Wow! Where's me kindle? But what I want to know is, where does Celia get her inside information on these dangerous to know girls? We should be told.

Astrid Holm said...

After hearing all about it at Arvon, I can't wait to read it. All the different voices sound intriguing...

Linda Newbery said...

Penny, I've only just noticed that you've called me a Carnegie-winner! I wish - and very generous of you. I like seeing my name and Carnegie in the same sentence. But I think you must have meant Costa ...

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for the amendments, Linda.

Readers,if you are puzzled by the final line about books of the year, it is I what caused the confusion by posting Linda's review earlier than originally planned, ie. in December not January.

THIS IS NOT FORGIVENESS is to be published by Bloomsbury in early February 2012 and by the sound of this review, should be one of the star titles of 2012.

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