Wednesday 25 May 2011

Review - The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan

I know they say don’t judge a book by its’ cover, but the first thing I thought about The Art of Forgetting is that it would probably be beautiful. Why so? Because of the cover (isn't is gorgeous?)

When I was younger, I studied ballet. Unfortunately, I was mostly terrible. I am uncoordinated to the point of endangering lives, and thankfully, around the age of seven, I grew too tall to be seriously considered as having any kind of a future in ballet. I heaved a sigh of relief, although I threw a fond backward glance at my tap shoes. The fact is, though, that I would have loved to be coordinated. I envy ballerina's their grace, and I absolutely love watching ballet. The fact that The Art of Forgetting’s front cover professed it to be about dance, meant I looked forward to reading it with gleeful anticipation. The ballerina is a good image for The Art of Forgetting: poised, graceful, and completely together, the novel moved in a very fluid manner, almost like a stream of consciousness.

In actuality, it wasn’t really that much about ballet, but it didn’t matter.

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Marissa Rogers never wanted to be an alpha; beta suited her just fine. Taking charge without taking credit had always paid off: vaulting her to senior editor at a glossy magazine; keeping the peace with her critical, weight-obsessed mother; and enjoying the benefits of being best friends with gorgeous, charismatic, absolutely alpha Julia Ferrar.

And then Julia gets hit by a cab. She survives with minor obvious injuries, but brain damage steals her memory and alters her personality, possibly forever. Suddenly, Marissa is thrown into the role of alpha friend. As Julia struggles to regain her memory- dredging up issues Marissa would rather forget, including the fact that Julia asked her to abandon the love of her life ten years ago- Marissa's own equilibrium is shaken.

With the help of a dozen girls, she reluctantly agrees to coach in an after-school running program. There, Marissa uncovers her inner confidence and finds the courage to reexamine her past and take control of her future.

The Art of Forgetting is a story about the power of friendship, the memories and myths that hold us back, and the delicate balance between forgiving and forgetting

The novel reminded me strongly of another book I’d read recently: Dorothy Koomson’s Goodnight, Beautiful, in both content, and style, which was a great thing, as Koomson is one of my favourite writers. The focus of The Art of Forgetting is around Julia’s accident, but the centre of the story is Marissa’s struggle towards the independence she doesn’t initially realise she is lacking. The novel tells, through a combination of flashbacks, and present narrative, the story of Marissa and Julia’s friendship, centring on Marissa’s brief relationship with her first love, Nathan.
Since they were young children together, Julia has always been the domineering, possessive one in the relationship. She periodically forces Marissa to stop seeing other friends, if she feels that Marissa is paying them more attention than she is paying her, but this comes to a head when she makes Marissa give up her first love, Nathan. After the accident, Julia starts bringing up Nathan again, forcing Marissa to face up to how she feels about both him, and what Julia did all those years ago.

The novel was an easy read for me. The characters were well rounded and felt very real. The only gripe that I have is that the characters are all very successful, and have managed to fulfil all of their childhood dreams. Julia wanted to be a ballet dancer, and although she has failed at this ambition, she is a publicist for the New York City Ballet, a job which, until her accident, she loves and is very successful at. Marissa wanted to work in magazines, and has a high powered job as an editor at Svelte, and Nathan, whom Marissa first met while waitressing at a coffee shop, now has his own successful restaurant. This was part inspiring, and part annoying. As a reader, I often feel like many characters are either completely perfect: perfect jobs, perfect partner etc, or absolutely the underdog, surviving against all the odds. Sometimes, I want there to be a middle ground! This could just be me having sour grapes, though, as this blog is the closest I’ve yet got to my ambition of working with books...

Learning about TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) was interesting. Although I’ve read novels which address the subject before, I didn’t realise the scope of it, nor how many people it affects on a yearly basis. My perception of it before reading The Art of Forgetting, was that it was something that occurred rarely, but according to the novel, TBI kills more young women in the U.S than Heart Disease, and most forms of Cancer. The Art of Forgetting managed to be both realistic about the condition, while remaining hopeful.  One of the features of TBI is that sufferers tend to lose their filtering system, and so will pretty much say anything, without worrying about hurting people’s feelings. The novel showed Marissa’s problems in dealing with this. If someone is your best friend, and you’re used to saying what you think to them, how do you adjust to having to censor your reactions? It was interesting to see this from Marissa’s point of view, and to wonder how much was Julia’s lack of filter, and how much was her saying things that she knew she could now get away with saying.

The coaching aspect of the novel was probably the most fun part of it, for me. I loved the inspiration, self confidence, and independence that coaching gave to Marissa. It was through doing this that she really started to become a person in her own right, rather than just Julia’s best friend. I also adored the concept of an activity based around giving young girls confidence and exercise, while also teaching them valuable life skills. I don’t know if we have anything like this in the U.K, but I’ll definitely be looking into it! I know from personal experience that exercise is great for clearing the mind, and that finishing a 5k when you never thought of yourself as a runner gives you such a rush and sense of empowerment that’s just unbelievable, so although the beginning of the novel was great – really strongly structured and very well written – it was when Marissa started coaching for Take the Lead that the story really took off.

The Art of Forgetting was a very easy read. Although it deals with a lot of complex issues, the style was very light, and at no point did it get bogged down by its’ issues. The author kept it interesting by incorporating friendship, family issues, and relationship problems, with the concerns (mostly to do with her relationship with her mother) raised by Marissa’s coaching, and Julia’s injury. It was inspiring from the point of view that I started to think that I should be volunteering more, as it’s the activities that you never expect to do which often offer the most reward.

The Art of Forgetting is available on June 9th 2011 from Dutton, and an ARC was provided to me by the publishers. Although not in the way I expected, it was as beautiful as the front cover promised, which proves that, just occasionally, judging a book by its’ cover can help!

Some links for the curious among you:

Rating: ****

    No comments:

    Post a Comment