By Lawrence Osborne
Doctor David Henniger and his writer wife Jo travel from London to attend an exclusive weekend party in the Moroccan desert thrown by their gay friends, a couple, Richard and Dally. The remote location entails a long car journey through unknown country. David is basically an alcoholic and can’t resist reviving himself with some wine when they break the drive. Night falls, the couple get confused about the directions and their whereabouts, and they argue. When two young Moroccan men rear up out of the darkness, trying to wave them down, a tragedy occurs. One of the young men is run over and killed. Later, the dead boy’s father arrives to claim his son’s body, and asks a curious price or penance of David. From this intriguing opening, Lawrence Osborne explores the lives of the main players: the Hennigers, the dead boy Driss and his father Abdellah, Richard and Dally, and Hamid, their Moroccan chief of staff. But due to a gap in the narrative, many questions swirl around what actually happened on the road that night. What was the motive of the two young men? How did David and Jo react in the immediate aftermath? The Forgiven explores the enormous cultural differences between the Moroccan Muslims and the decadent Europeans. The indulgence of Richard and Dally’s party and general lifestyle is contrasted with the bleak lives of many Moroccans – the child labour, the subsistence living conditions, the bleak outlook. Meanwhile, Richard and Dally have exotic food flown in from overseas, consume and serve copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine, indulge in sexual shenanigans with the local boys, and provide a sexually permissive environment for their guests. All this is observed by Hamid and the other staff – while a young Moroccan lies dead in the couple’s air-conditioned garage. Lawrence Osborne has written numerous travel books and his eye for location and atmosphere is used to tremendous effect here. This is a sinister, suspenseful, and extraordinarily well-observed novel that explores fascinating territory and themes. With so many layers of complexity, Osborne builds the novel to an exceptionally well-judged ending.