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.
The southern Grampians are lovely. I’ve lived near there, been up through Dunkeld countless times on scout and fellowship camps, and my grandparents moved to a farm at the northern end, looking across to Mt Zero. I’m a bit dubious about children calling their mother ‘mother’. Perhaps on the stations, where the boys all went off to Geelong Grammar. Laguna got lots of praise for her evokation of place in The Choke, so it’s a shame she couldn’t pull it off here.
I tried Eye of the Sheep. It wasn’t for me!
Agree, a stunning part of Victoria. I had a trip planned there last year, which of course was cancelled (was taking my photography-mad teenager for a field trip). I really must reschedule – it’s been many, many years since I hiked there.
Hey, Bill, I called my mother Mother, and she called her mother Mother too. Neither of us went to Geelong Grammar…
It’s an Irish thing, and maybe Laguna is sourcing it from Koroit which is famously more Irish than the Irish.
Yep… an Irish thing… it’s what my OH calls his mum.
Interesting! I’m assuming that extends to sisters/ brothers/ uncles/ aunts? I wouldn’t have minded it so much if it had been used sparingly, but there were sometimes two ‘mothers’ per sentence and it really started to irritate me!
I don’t know. I didn’t have any other family, there was only ever just the five of us.
I’ve not read Laguna and it sounds like this may be not the place to start…
Start with The Choke, or The Eye of the Sheep – her child characters in both of those are really good.
Yes, I agree. This was very disappointing coming on the back of The Choke. The lack of redemption or hope was its ultimate downfall but I honestly couldn’t stand the way he yearned for young boys. It was a disturbing direction to take. This book has made me reluctant to read hercagain.
I’m adding a link to your review because you highlighted the multi-faceted look at inter-generational trauma and the continuing impact of war – https://theresasmithwrites.com/2021/01/11/book-review-infinite-splendours-by-sofie-laguna/ – important elements of the story which I failed to mention because I’d simply run out of energy for the book by the time I got to writing my review…
I made notes on that while I was reading as I felt it was potentially going to be an important element. I was glad I’d done so because I was rather fatigued by the book by the end and may have overlooked it if not for my notes.
Were you bothered by his mother’s enabling of him in place of questioning why he was so changed?
Totally bothered by the mother but attributed that to her own trauma (either directly experienced or her ‘guilt’ over being spared while her brother suffered).
The other element that I found initially interesting was how the uncle picked his target between the two brothers (eager-to-please compliant Laurie vs rebellious Paul). That said, I found the uncle’s dialogue (when the grooming begins) too obvious.
Yes, I found that too about the uncle.
The neighbour definitely knew and she was the only one who offered me any hope at all for Laurie. But then she died.
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I agree with you you about the repetition. I did find it a bit much, and felt the novel could have been a bit shorter, though too short might have had the wrong effect.
I had no problem with the Mother business. My mum’s mother always wanted my mum to call her Mother, for some reason. Her background I believed was English but I now (from ancestry DNA testing) wonder if her family were originally Irish. Something to explore in my dotage!!
I wouldn’t say there was no redemption in the end. The hope was thin, but the redemption was strong I thought.
Finally, I wasn’t convinced that the Lawrence we knew had to go down the path he did, but I can see ow Laguna could argue that way.
So, not as good as The choke I agree, but I did like it.