Do you believe in love at first sight? Or simply lust at first sight? You have to accept either as a possibility to become completely absorbed in Damage by Josephine Hart.
A quick read of the jacket blurb and a couple of choice quotes from the book and you know that this is car-crash reading – horrible, uncomfortable but you keep turning the pages nonetheless. For example, in the very first chapter –
“But I did not die in my fiftieth year. There are few who know me now who do not regard that as a tragedy.”
It’s the story of Stephen Fleming, a man who seemingly has everything – wealth, a beautiful wife (Ingrid), two children (Martyn and Sally), and a prestigious political career in Parliament.
“Marriage is not the gamble we sometimes say it is. Over its course we have some control. Our choice of spouse is mostly intelligent, as well as romantic…. No. Children are the great gamble. From the moment they are born, our helplessness increases. Instead of being ours to mould and shape after our best knowledge and endeavor, they are themselves. From their birth they are the centre of our lives, and the dangerous edge of existence.”
So with that quote in mind, you might be interested to know what happens next. Stephen shags his son’s fiancée, Anna Barton. In fact, they begin an all-consuming affair.
“A woman I had known only days, to whom I had spoken only a few sentences, watched me betray my wife and my son. And we both knew the other knew. It seemed a bond between us. A concealed truth, that’s all a lie is.”
There are so many themes and analogies in this book, it’s difficult to know where to begin… Actually, can you move past the fact that Stephen is sleeping with his son’s girlfriend? Is that a greater betrayal than the betrayal of his wife? Interestingly, the focus is on damaging personality types (as opposed to betrayal per se). Much is made of Anna’s dark past (it is dark but I won’t reveal why) although I found this aspect of the story a little too contrived, particularly the scenecs where Anna’s mother verbally warns Martyn that Anna has a tortured past and in another scene, when Anna’s stepfather does similar.
“‘All damaged people are dangerous. Survival makes them so.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because they have no pity. They know that others can survive, as they did.'”
I read this book with an increasing sense of dread – there’s no happy ending to a story such as this. And while I did have trouble accepting that an intelligent man, who was in the public spotlight, would risk all that he had for a roll in the hay with this particular girl (any other girl, yes maybe), the story was engrossing.
As I was reading Damage I thought to myself that it would make a great film. Well der, that’s been done. Oddly, I haven’t seen the film but I am more than familiar with one of the still shots (below). How does that happen? So naturally, once I knew there was a film version, I hit YouTube for a trailer. I was shocked (shocked I tell you), to discover that Rupert Graves plays Martyn in Damage. Noooooooo! He will always be Freddy Honeychurch in Room with a View for me (yes, I know he has been in dozens of things since Room but I’ve avoided those other things and the character of Martyn is just all wrong for Freddy.)
3.5/5 An extra half star for the OMG moment towards the end.
A celebratory dinner in the story includes salmon en croute. I haven’t had this dish for years… It’s a bit dinner-party-eighties, isn’t it? But done well, with the pastry crisp and the fish moist (a delicate balancing act, much like the picture above), it is delicious.