This audio book is read impeccably by the reader, Sam Devereaux. He sounded almost supernatural, at times. His voice was resonant and mellow. Reading in a dreamy, quiet, almost mournful, matter-of-fact tone (but there are lighter moments of jest also), he was able to convey the exact temperament of Richard Haddon and imprint his character upon the reader’s memory.
Richard, an artist, seems to be a man in the depths of despair. His wife, Anne-Laure, has discovered his infidelity and cannot forgive him. She has read the love letters revealing his unfaithfulness, and she can no longer trust him. She is angry, humiliated and ashamed. It is hard to know if Richard is really remorseful, or if he is merely desperate and lonely. We know he wants to be forgiven. They have a child, Camille, and he cannot bear the thought of losing that life he shared with them, yet, he betrayed them, and might have done worse had Lisa Bishop, his lover, not dumped him first. The story evolves as Richard tries to make amends for his stupidity, hoping to return to his former life.
I found three themes in the story. The first concerns a painting called, Blue Bear, a painting Richard made when his wife was pregnant. It symbolized the conflict of his fear and joy at the birth of his first child. It is a secret feeling they both shared and understood about the painting’s meaning. The second concerns his desire to make a strong political statement which he hopes will bring his wife back to their marriage bed. He hopes she will be proud of him and forgive him, hopes she will realize he was really a good person, and he loved her. He had just made a terrible mistake. The third is Richard’s film “Witness”, a kind of documentary in which he interviews his parents and their friends in an attempt to discover what keeps their love alive, what do they like and dislike about each other, and what is wrong with his own emotional needs and bonds. Through these introspective interviews and family conversations, secrets are revealed. The art project, which will make a political statement that will bring him notice and hopefully expiate his crime, encouraging his wife to forgive him, is the culmination of those three underlying issues the book explores.
Richard uses President Bush and his policies toward Iraq as the vehicle to fuel his need to create a performance art project which he calls War Wash. His art sponsor hates George Bush, so they are a perfect team. Once again, an author has taken the opportunity to use the bully pulpit to bash George Bush and the conservatives in order to promote a personal liberal bent. It is getting to be a pretty nasty habit. Why didn’t she instead create something about the bombing of the aspirin factory by Bill Clinton and the murder conspiracy surrounding Princess Diana? That could have been a large statement about women’s rights and the abuse they are made to suffer by men and would have fit into his transgression, his original sin, very neatly. Instead he used his dislike for Tony Blair as well, because he sided with America in the effort to find Weapons of Mass Destruction which were never found. In addition, the art exhibitor who sponsored his project just happened to be Middle Eastern, so the project took on more than a political tone, it also seemed a bit biased toward one culture.
I believe that while Richard’s behavior was totally selfish and self-serving, President Bush’s behavior was meant to be altruistic, to rid the world of a tyrant, to stop the genocide in Iraq. I do not believe that the President acted in his own self-interest as Richard and Azar, his art sponsor, may well have.
Richard was brought up in England, spent time in the United States, but was living in Paris now, and he was happy that his adopted country, France, remained out of the fray. His “living” creation featured Britain and America and symbolized the sins of both countries and also those of individuals, as well, who wanted to wash their failures and wrongdoings out of life. The public made donations to be used in the live creation of the project. The detritus of life, the failed dreams, the mistakes and the disappointments, were all tossed into, and featured in, the final creation which was then tossed and washed in a machine filled with gasoline, not water. The symbolism was huge and explosive. Richard, too, is hoping for a regime change so he can return home, to his former life, and he was willing to do something outside the box to regain his dignity and his life.
In an effort to be kind and not be enraged because I am once again being force fed political beliefs I may or may not agree with, in a book which is masquerading as a novel but may well be a political treatise, I decided that he used the project as a metaphor for the breakup of his marriage. Both the war and his affair were doomed to failure, he believed, both were futile attempts to attain personal gain, but in reality could only cause ultimate pain. He came to believe that his behavior and that of America and Britain, were acts of stupidity. Therefore, perhaps it was not as politically heavy-handed as I originally thought.
I think Richard believed that the war was completely unjust and damaging for the world, and what he did to his family was equally unjust and damaging to his private world. Both acts were enormously destructive to an established way of life. He declared war on his marriage and Bush declared war on Iraq. Both may or may not have been misguided attempts to gain recognition; your beliefs will, depend upon your own moral, ethical and political beliefs, as well as your own personal commission of sins.
The narrative is exquisitely lyrical at times, but sometimes that mood was broken by the insertion of some crude and ugly language that referenced sex, body parts and/or bodily functions. I am not sure what the author’s intention was at those times, but it made what would have been a beautifully written, more serious novel, more of a beach read. In addition, the ending was too predictable and too much like a fairy tale.