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Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

The Blurb On The Back:

"I am dying: it's a beautiful word.

Like the long slow sigh of a cello: dying.

But the sound of it is the only beautiful thing about it."

As life slips away, Gabriel looks back over his brief twenty years, clouded by frustration and humiliation. A small town and cold repressed parents ensure that he is never allowed to forget the horrific mistake he made as a child. He has only two friends - his dog, Surrender, and the unruly wild boy Finnigan, with whom he made a boyhood pact.

When a series of arson attacks grips the town, Gabriel realises how unpredictable and dangerous Finnigan is. Events begin to spiral out of control, and it becomes clear that only the most extreme of measures will rid Gabriel of Finnigan for good.

Dark and delicate, Surrender is a brilliantly told suspense novel.

Despite being billed as a thriller, this novel is predominantly a character piece, told by both Gabriel and Finnigan in the first person, and slowly exploring the corrosive nature of their friendship after they form a pact wherein Finnigan will only do bad things and Gabriel, his 'angel' will only do good. Gabriel is an intelligent but withdrawn boy who lives with his emotionally and sometimes physically abusive parents within a small Australian town. Bullied at school and lonely, there are hints that he did something horrible when much younger. Finnigan by contrast is a wild-child from a similarly abusive home background. Illiterate and violent, he roams freely among and unnoticed by the townsfolk.

The plot starts about a third of the way through the book when the town is rocked by a series of arson attacks carried out apparently at random, but which Gabriel knows are being carried out by Finnigan against those people who have harmed Gabriel. Hartnett is excellent at conveying the suspicion and rancour that the attacks generate within the townsfolk and eeks out the tension that arises when Gabriel's father leads a band of vigilantes in an attempt to catch the arsonist, and in doing so seeks to deliberately undermine the authority of the town's young policeman, McIllwraith. Coupled with this is a suggestion that something even more sinister has happened, with Gabriel knowing that bones have been discovered in the town and accepting that the police will want to question him for it. As the plot unravels, the relationship between Gabriel and Finnigan becomes darker as Finnigan steals the things that Gabriel cares about, including his dog, Surrender, but when Finnigan threatens Evangeline, the girl that Gabriel loves, Gabriel is moved to finally fight back.

The big issue with the book is that the plot is slow to get moving and Hartnett is more interested in character than in keeping the action coming, which makes for a frustrating read at times. Although characterisation is well handled, with both main characters having a distinctive voice, there is a distinctly purple tint to the prose, with Hartnett's fondness for similes interfering with the pace. Particularly frustrating is Hartnett's insistence on describing the landscape at every opportunity, even when it appears to have little to do with what is happening and many of the descriptions are repetitive.

Although the arson scenes are tense and well depicted, the plot jumps the shark at the end with a twist ending that a soap opera would feel embarrassed at running and which left me feeling very cheated. Although there are hints of it throughout the book, the fact that it's so preposterous cheapens the overall impact of the story, robbing it of credibility and interest that had been hard won.

The Verdict:

Despite some well executed tense moments, this book is overwritten in a prose that's sometimes a rich shade of indigo. Lacking the action and pace to be the thriller that it advertises itself as, the twist ending so cliche that I almost threw the book at the wall on reading it.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 22nd, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, too bad. I was fond of her Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf, but just haven't been able to get my teeth into anything else by this author. :-/
Dec. 23rd, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
I was fond of her Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf

Is that the one that won the Guardian Prize because I've heard good things about that but haven't been able to get hold of a copy at my local book store?

I think that when she's pared her writing back it's great, but here she just didn't rein it in enough and the daytime soap opera ending just pushed me over the edge.
Jan. 10th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
Surrender is very hard
I agree with what you say the description is so detailed that the readers might get confused. My class is reading this book at school and as an 8th grade student I feel quite confused, it took me sometime until I understand the story. My teacher has to explain it over and over again so that everyone finally understands. I heard the ending from my friend when I was just 2 chapters to the end, I got so angry I decided not to continue. (Don't read the next line if you haven't read the book) I don't really think someone could just permanently shut down his body like that...
Apr. 10th, 2011 07:08 am (UTC)
did you even realize they are one and that he is mentally ill from the mistake of killing his brother and the town wasn't hating him as a child but his parents for the way they had treated him.. the landscape remains the same and repeated as it is what he remembers, as he is living in a room and this is all in his mind. Readers ask yourself is "Surrender " really a dog, or the fact he is surrendering to his fate that he is causing and that the bones the police had found were his parents, that he killed. and at the end as he is dying he finally realizes he has forgiven himself as he lets go of the hand (devils)
and the wings wrap around him.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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