Thursday, 25 October 2012

This Is not Forgiveness - M's review

This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees

This Is Not Forgiveness is one of those books that caught my eye a few months back just after it was published. The romance angle on the blurb and in the trailer made me dither. But then I was sent a copy for review. And I was surprised.

First off, This Is Not Forgiveness is not a romance in the usual sense. I was also expecting a lot of fast-paced political activism. But, This Is Not Forgiveness is actually not-nice-nor-sugary-sweet stirred with a lot of vodka and sex - and something unpleasant lurking beneath the surface too. It has all the ingredients for a very good psychological thriller.

The story opens with an urn full of ashes and the novel provides a testament to how this death happened. The novel is presented from the perspectives of the three main characters – Jamie, Rob and Caro - although the ending sheds further light on the eyes of the novel’s telling. Jamie develops a strong attraction for Caro but thinks she’ll never go for him. Rob, his brother, is back from the war in Afghanistan and he is struggling to cope with what some describe as post-traumatic-stress. Caro’s been expelled from school for having an affair with a teacher and her latest inspiration comes from the militant Red Faktion Army. This Is Not Forgiveness is an account of how their three lives became intermingled in a series of manipulations and deceits.

Amidst the grit, the plot is full of tensions and the suspense building is simply foreboding. All along I was thinking, ‘Please, don’t let it end like that. Or like that. Or like that.’ The character portrayals and development are also substantial and I’ve had a lengthy conversation with another adult about the characters in this novel and the kinds of judgements that we made about them. Certainly, my judgements of the characters changed as the story twisted and turned.

Stating the obvious, but different readers will take different things from this novel. For some, it just won’t be their thing and they won’t read it. For others, it might be something about teenage relationships, or grappling with ways to change the world. For some, they might see it is as a representation of the banality of contemporary teenagehood. For me it was these things but mostly I read it as a biting commentary on how we think about armies and more particularly the Afghan war.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers and Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, although speculative fictions, also have central teen girl characters who are seriously exploring the different forms of political action and the consequences of violent interventions. All three novels are violent and hardhitting but This Is Not Forgiveness is by far the grittier. I’d even say it was grittier than Noughts & Crosses – but not as harsh.

Who’d I recommend it for? Older teens or adults. The characters are mostly eighteen or older. Jamie might be seventeen – he’s under-age for the pubs – and Rob is in his early twenties. But they’re all well over the age for legitimate sex – and they’re not about to hold back. Like I said, the story mix includes lots of vodka and sex.


Publication details:
Bloomsbury, 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher




  1. I have to admit that I only lasted a few chapters before putting this back down. I really should give it another go.

    1. I can understand that. For me, this is one of those books that, whether you like the characters or the plot, there is plenty to talk about once you've finished reading it.


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