IN THE GARDEN OF THE FUGITIVES by Ceridwen Dovey, Book Review
Praise for Ceridwen Dovey’s In the Garden of the Fugitives
“In a novel unabashedly about ideas, Dovey does not shy away from bluntly confronting big questions head-on, and yet—a testament to her skill—the book, while trembling with meaning, is neither obvious nor cumbersome but unsettlingly alive. Sweeping both geographically and intellectually; a literary page-turner.” —Kirkus (starred review)
In the Garden of the Fugitives Synopsis:
Almost twenty years after forbidding him to contact her, Vita receives a letter from a man who has long stalked her from a distance. Once, Royce was her benefactor and she was one of his brightest protégées. Now Royce is ailing and Vita’s career as a filmmaker has stalled, and both have reasons for wanting to settle accounts. They enter into an intimate game of words, played according to shifting rules of engagement.
Beyond their murky shared history, they are both aware they can use each other to free themselves from deeper pasts. Vita is processing the shameful inheritance of her birthplace, and making sense of the disappearance of her beloved. Royce is haunted by memories of the untimely death of his first love, an archaeologist who worked in the Garden of the Fugitives in Pompeii. Between what’s been repressed and what has been disguised are disturbances that reach back through decades, even centuries. But not everything from the past is precious: each gorgeous age is built around a core of rottenness.
Profoundly addictive and unsettling, In the Garden of the Fugitives is a masterful novel of duplicity and counterplay, as brilliantly illuminating as it is surprising—about the obscure workings of guilt in the human psyche, the compulsion to create and control, and the dangerous morphing of desire into obsession.
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, May 2018)
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I was profoundly moved and impressed by Ceridwen Dovey’s short story collection Only the Animals, and so eager to read this talented author’s latest offering. True to form, In the Garden of the Fugitives features an exploration of confronting subject matter in confident and artful prose, but I am left with ambivalent feelings about the work as a whole.
This novel’s alternating first-person narratives are deeply unsettling… We are not expected to ‘like’ the characters but perhaps feel a measure of sympathy; much of the time they do not think very highly of themselves, or at least that’s what we are to believe from their unreliable narratives. They discuss feelings of detachment and estrangement, but in a manner that is voyeuristic, with an intimacy that menaces, as though words and thought are both chain and weapon.
I have been brooding over the idea of who should be able to say of another person that they have potential, which seems to be about having latent power, nothing in the here and now, only the uncertain promise of a future harvest. Being told as a young woman that you have potential can feel like a life sentence, as if an invisible scythe is hanging above you, ready to reap what you produce or chop off your head if you fail. The word ambitious troubles me for similar reasons.
I personally have limited appetite/patience for vacillation and self-flagellation, so quickly found passages of that nature draining.
I was overtaken then by a foreboding that I was on the wrong path, in life and in art. What if my own earnestness were a cover for something else, something left unexamined, something putrid?
If not entertained, I certainly felt educated by In the Garden of the Fugitives. The sections on Pompeii’s history and archeological practices/theory were fascinating and the discussions about anthropology and psychology interesting, but the treatment of the latter quite dense.
He believed that the human psyche could be excavated like an archaeological site, made to throw up fragments which, once rinsed of dirt, might seem tantalizingly important. But in that moment beside the casts, the thought came to me that not everything from the past is precious. A lot of it is just other people’s baggage, discarded for good reason.
In the Garden of the Fugitives is a cerebral work, the reader only realising quite how much so after the very subtle but clever denouement. And for me, the denouement explained many of the reservations I’d had with the narrative (and thus reading experience) that had preceded it. But is that enough, for this story to linger long in my memory? Note quite.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5 — Overall 3.5
In the Garden of the Fugitives is available from:
Book Depository | Amazon | Kobobooks | B&N | Indigo | iBooks | Booktopia(Aus)
Genre: Literature, Drama, Mystery
This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2018, the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge and the New Release Challenge 2018.
About the Author, Ceridwen Dovey
Ceridwen Dovey’s debut novel, Blood Kin, was published around the world and selected for the National Book Foundation’s prestigious 5 Under 35 honors list. The Wall Street Journal named her one of their “artists to watch.” Her short story collection, Only the Animals, was published by FSG in 2015 and described by The Guardian as a “dazzling, imagined history of humans’ relationship with animals.” She lives in Sydney, Australia.
- Check out Ceridwen’s website and this podcast/video where she speaks to ABC Radio about growing up in post-Apartheid South Africa and how in ‘In the Garden of the Fugitives’ she goes back to the past in an effort to try and understand the present.
- Read an excerpt from the novel
Other reviews of In the Garden of the Fugitives
Goodreads, Readings, KirkusReviews, TheresaSmithWrites
* My receiving a copy of In the Garden of the Fugitives from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.