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Book: The Forgiven
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Price: Rs 1143
In The Clash of Civilizations, political scientist Samuel P. Huntington predicted that cultural and religious identities would be the main source of conflict in the 21st century. It is precisely these ideological differences between the East and West that echo through Lawrence Osborne's sublime new book, The Forgiven. Osborne is British and has built a reputation as a memoirist and a travel writer; he has also written a book on wine, The Accidental Connoisseur. In his second work of fiction, he uses his formidable skills of description to create a variety of finely etched characters caught in a seriously weird situation.
The story unfolds on a moonlit night with an aristocratic British couple, David and Jo Henniger driving through the desolate mountains of Morocco, on their way to a weekend of decadent revelry at their gay friends' Richard and Dally's luxurious home in the desert. David is drunk and both of them are absorbed in thoughts of their wrecked marriage. Suddenly, two men spring onto the road and a panicked David runs one over. They land up at a spectacular party with a body in the backseat, shocking the large staff of Moroccans who, for the sake of extravagant wages, have kept their contempt for the Westerners' distasteful sexual habits well disguised. Even if they secretly admire their lavish lifestyles: oranges flown in from Spain and trestle tables set up with iced rose water, the locals can't shake off the suspicion that there is something inherently demonic about the foreigners. When word spreads that David has committed an unforgivable act, simmering resentments find force in collective outrage.
Men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars, observed F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Similarly, Osborne is at his erudite best while describing the atmosphere of the bacchanal. There are fireworks and local boys dressed as pirates, free cocaine, limitless Laphroaig, an African band that puts on a wild performance, beautiful models and a guest who arrived by helicopter. Tamarisk trees twinkle with fairy lights nearby. The New York Times has sent a photographer to cover the party. There is a champagne picnic near a waterfall and unimaginable recreation, all in the arid countryside of Morocco. The breakfast menu includes cannabis with honey for breakfast, recommended with strong coffee. The host Richard casually mentions to one of the guests, "We're glad you're game, Tom. Some people aren't. We don't invite them back." The stage is set for a shocking and unforgettably hedonistic weekend, if only David hadn't killed the mood with his random accident.