Maybe it’s indicative of the year we’ve had, but my favourite fiction of 2020 was almost universally harrowing, sometimes outright devastating. The endings of several still haunt me weeks and months later. I’ll never forget the final pages of Leah Swann’s “Sheerwater,” or the coda to Aravind Adiga’s “Amnesty,” or the epilogue to Sophie Laguna’s “Infinite Splendours;” never mind the total gut-wrenching experience of Tiffany McDaniel’s “Betty.” This was the year I demanded books that shook me to my core, that shredded me emotionally, or at the very least induced the smallest cut.Continue reading
In “Infinite Splendours” Sofie Laguna exquisitely, compassionately and wrenchingly transmutes the legacy of trauma into art.
This story, framed as a tragedy from the start, ominously builds towards a heinous act that shapes the life of a young boy named Lawrence, then cuts forward in time to suffuse readers in its consequences: the shame; the loneliness; the hurt; the gnawing sense of something undone and the elusive chase to make oneself whole again. In “Infinite Splendours” there is no mechanical plot that grinds to a Hollywood conclusion. There is no contrived test for Lawrence to pass in order to move forward with his life. This is a novel about the transmission of trauma, and how a single act of child maltreatment can derail a life, and diminish its potential. For victims of abuse, the past is always present.
When “Infinite Splendours” opens in 1953, Lawrence is ten years old and his brother Paul is eight. They live in a property named Beverly Park, next door to Mrs Barry, with their widowed mother Louise; their father died in the war. His medal is a gaping reminder of what their family is missing. “It was only ever Paul and me, Mother and the medal,” Lawrence narrates bittersweetly; but there is an equilibrium to their family unit. Circumstances have cultivated a permanent bond between the siblings. But it’s shaken to its core when their Uncle Reggie arrives to stay with them.
At first, Reggie seems almost too good to be true; the man of the house they’ve been missing. He gifts Lawrence a copy of ‘Letters from the Masters’ to foster his artistic development, to go alongside the sketchbook provided by Mrs St Clair. It soon transpires something is wrong with Reggie, which Louise is blind to, but Paul (and Mrs Barry) can sense, but can’t articulate.
Horror-struck readers can do nothing but bear witness to his grooming of Lawrence, and subsequent rape, which destroys Lawrence; he develops a stammer and becomes dangerously reclusive and emotionally stunted. He isolates himself in Beverly Park, a blip amongst the Grampian mountains of Victoria; his art his only companion. Salvation, or destruction, comes in the form of the two adolescent boys he befriends over his remaining years, as Lawrence’s desire for tenderness and warmth manifests through the prism of his trauma, and he’s allowed one final opportunity for redemption.
Absolutely confronting, but absolutely brilliant. The material is dark, but the prose is luminous. Laguna — a generational talent — has crafted a harrowing masterpiece.
Sofie Laguna’s The Choke is emotionally intense, deeply engaging and quietly haunting. And I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to review it for Books+Publishing.
Number Of Pages: 366
Available: 23rd August 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU
A graphic novel, a brilliant retelling of a Shakespeare play, a standout second novel from the 2015 Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna, a couple of mile-a-minute page-turners, and a brilliant debut literary crime novel from a fresh Australian voice; these, and more, are my picks for the books that have already made 2017 a stellar year for reading. And we’re only halfway through it!