Afraid I need to retract what I said very recently about being okay with Sofie Laguna telling the same story over and over.
Laguna’s latest novel, Infinite Splendours, sticks to her formula of following the life of a traumatised child. In this case, it is a boy named Lawrence who is groomed and raped by his uncle. The story jumps forward decades, and we revisit Lawrence at different points in his life – at each he is disconnected, struggling to form relationships, and severely damaged.
I felt the novel ran into trouble from the outset. The decision to set the book in the fifties (albeit in the beautifully described southern Grampians) seemed to equate with a strained formality in the dialogue, with characters referring to each other by relationship rather than name – there were so many ‘Yes Mothers’ and ‘Hello Uncles’ and ‘Yes Sisters’ that it laboured, making long sections of dialogue incredibly stilted.
Likewise, details were repeated over and over – descriptions of Mount Wallis and the family home, referred to as Beverley; Lawrence’s reading of a book about artists; and how Lawrence’s brother Paul would not let him speak after he developed a stutter – nothing new was added, and the repetition was irritating.
In Laguna’s previous novels, she layered the heartbreak little by little and in doing so, exposed vulnerabilities piece by piece. Not so in Infinite Splendours. Lawrence suffers a trauma that has life changing consequences, and while the jumps in time demonstrate the long reverberations of trauma, there is no hint of healing. Instead, the story becomes progressively disturbing and sad.
I’ve ‘enjoyed’ disturbing and sad stories in the past. The reasons I did not enjoy this book were related to style – it lacked the simplicity and tenderness of The Eye of the Sheep; and it lacked the emotional complexity and evocative sense of time and place of The Choke. Most of all, this book lacked warmth and hope, and that’s what I have come to expect from Laguna, even when she creates the most dire of circumstances for her characters.
After school, Lawrence and his brother eat tea biscuits and drink milk.