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S. J. Parris and Stephanie Merritt

Review < Back

The Offering – the gifted Grace McCleen addresses memory and religion

Sunday 18th January 2015

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Grace McCleen’s third novel, The Offering, returns to the territory of her award-winning debut, The Land of Decoration, which announced her in 2012 as a significant talent, drawing praise from the likes of Hilary Mantel and AS Byatt for her assured voice. Her second book, The Professor of Poetry, followed in 2013, and The Offering completes a trio of novels she finished in 2010 since when, according to a recent interview, she has written nothing more.

Her narrator, Madeline Adamson, begins her story from a solitary room in Lethem Park mental infirmary, shortly after what she describes as “an incident” between herself and Dr Lucas, the psychiatrist who has been experimenting with a radical hypnotherapy treatment to uncover the trauma that precipitated Madeline’s admittance to Lethem Park some two decades earlier, at the age of 14. Madeline cannot or will not recall what happened to her on the night she was found wandering along a lonely beach road, covered in blood; nor can she remember what exactly occurred with Dr Lucas to have brought her treatment to such an abrupt end. The narrative that follows is an incremental unfolding of events in past and present, leading to a double revelation. But Lethem Park shares its name with the mythological river in Hades, a bit of symbolism the author has flagged up in an epigraph, lest we miss it; this is a novel about the nature of memory. “Forgetting is the precondition of existence; we forget to stay alive, filter the necessary from the unnecessary, the bearable from that which can’t be borne; whether or not we are aware of it, we leave what we have to the dark,” Madeline observes. (Her own name is also heavy with symbolism in the literature of memory.) ...

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