The Forgiven

Once in a while, a novel comes along that has the slender, ripped body of sharp, exquisitely constructed literary fiction and the quicksilver, pumping mind of a slinky, gut-jabbing thriller.

Words by: ROBERT COLLINS

Once in a while, a novel comes along that has the slender, ripped body of sharp, exquisitely constructed literary fiction and the quicksilver, pumping mind of a slinky, gut-jabbing thriller. That novel, this year, is Lawrence Osborne’s The Forgiven

English-born Osborne wrote his first novel 27 years ago. Since then, he’s moved around the world, living in Mexico, Istanbul, New York and (currently) Bangkok.

I don’t know exactly what the guy’s been up to in all that time — though a lot of it, apparently, has involved heavy drinking. Whatever it is, while Osborne’s been globetrotting and writing travel books and pieces for the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, it’s helped him come up with one of the most cynical, intelligent, darkly tinged page-turners I’ve hoovered up in years.

Heavy drinking, maybe not entirely coincidentally, has more than a walk-on part in The Forgiven. The novel begins with a middle-aged British couple, David and Jo Henniger, driving through

Morocco on their way to a swanky weekend party being held in the desert by a fabulous gay friend of theirs, whom David went to school with. The party’ll have fashion bloggers and style columnists covering it. There’s going to be turtle soup, cocaine, a pirates’ fancy-dress ball, and a dissolute old aristo perving over the winsome women called Lord Swann.

As they drive through the dust and heat, Jo and David are clearly a long way from the party mood.

They’re stuck on that stretch of marriage highway where the nearest available exit signs are: Deepening Contempt, Protracted Divorce, or Killing One Another.

Instead, the person they kill (after David downs a bottle of wine — single-handed — over lunch) is a young Moroccan standing on the roadside, whom David, er, mistakenly runs over after thinking he looks like a bit of a threat. Being the thoroughly upstanding, resourceful public school- educated English c*** he is, David does the decent thing and pops the Moroccan’s bleeding body on the back seat of the car and makes headway to the party.

I’m not going to spoil this beautiful brainy badass of a novel by telling you any more. Suffice to say: what was originally planned as a decadent little mini-break in a Eurotrash house party ends up being one fucked-up weekend in the desert. And if the thriller it develops into isn’t enough to keep you going, read it for the killer, early-morning coked-up party-babble Osborne has his party guests indulging in while the Moroccan staff serve them plates of strawberries laid over beds of iced watercress: “It’s a hundred degrees at nine o’clock. Everyone looks like shit, my darling.”

Words by ROBERT COLLINS