Author: Josephine Hart
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Damage is the gripping story of a man’s desperate obsession and scandalous love affair. He is a man who appears to have everything: wealth, a beautiful wife and children, and a prestigious political career in Parliament. But his life lacks passion, and his aching emptiness drives him to an all-consuming, and ultimately catastrophic, relationship with his son’s fiancee.”
Thoughts: Damage is one of those novels that you know from the start is not going to end well. It tells you so in almost the first paragraph, but therein lies the draw. What happens to make such a statement? What could possess someone to conscientiously do something so wrong that would cause him or her to make a blanket assessment like that? The resulting pages are every bit as horrific, emotional and intensely personal as the narrator cautions the reader to expect. Short but powerful, Damage is like watching a runaway train; the reader cannot look away even while knowing the outcome is going to be awful. Like said accident, it also leaves its mark on the reader as it explores what it means to love.
Love – According to 1 Corinthians 13, love is patient and kind and is completely unselfish. According to Ms. Hart and the anonymous narrator, it is the greatest act of selfishness one can achieve. It is all-consuming, impatient, cruel, and decidedly impure. It eats a person alive and spits them out again, battered and bruised. Survivors of this ordeal know that they can survive anything, while those not strong enough to handle it find themselves mere shells of their former selves and their lives irrevocably altered. Presented in this light, Ms. Hart confronts the reader with the age-old question of whether it truly is better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all.
It is quite telling that while every other character is named and fleshed out a bit, the narrator remains anonymous. As the narrator does not shrink from the truth and does nothing to hide his own complicity in his decline, the reader is left to wonder if he remains anonymous for his own protection or as punishment for his actions. Similarly, the focus on the sensual, almost cruel trysts between Anna and the narrator raise the question of whether their attraction is truly this life-altering love, as discussed, or plain lust. Is one worse than the other? Does it really matter given the damage that occurs?
Anna is the key to the mystery and really deserves her own story. Cool and collected, strong-willed, maddeningly secretive and yet surprisingly pliant to the narrator’s desires, who does she really love? Why is she so willing to sleep with her fiance’s father? What is her motivation behind her actions? Ms. Hart tantalizes readers with the answers, but rather than frustrate, the remaining mysteries only enhance the tension.
What pulls this emotional cauldron together is the language. Stark but elegant, the words are almost audible to a reader. The language evokes a clear image of the mysterious narrator, his family and his emotional trauma while building those important connections to the reader. Damage takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions, raising question after question about what it means to love, and ultimately leaves the reader gasping for breath at the end.
Thank you to NetGalley for my review copy.