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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Rites by Sophie Coulombeau

In 2011 Route Publishing chose Sophie Coulombeau as the winner of their "Next Great Novelist Award 2012", the prize being that her first book Rites was seen through to publication. I have a special place in my heart for both debut novels and novels set in my beloved Manchester, so it is no surprise that I enjoyed this a great deal. 

Rites Sophie Coulombeau

Rites is a story of four adults looking back on a scandal that rocked their teenage worlds back when they were 14 years old and had made a pact to lose their virginities to one another. Ten years later, an unidentified inquisitor is interviewing them and members of the local community to establish what exactly happened. It quickly becomes clear that memories have become blurred with time. What seems solid truth at first is later called into question as we read a variety of different accounts of the same events.

The teenagers in this book are portrayed wonderfully. They are so realistic. Coulombeau has perfectly captured that period of adolescence where you feel like you somehow know everything about life and yet nothing about it at the same time. The years when you have your first taste of independence and are not quite sure what to do with it.

"What else there is to do has nothing whatsoever to do with why kids hang around on street corners. They do it because they've figured out that it's intimidating, and they like it. When grown-ups walk by, grown-ups by themselves, they're not exactly scared but they shut down a little, they tense, they brace themselves in case you're trouble, in case you're going to hassle them...There's nothing like a taste of power when you're fourteen"

The protagonists as teenagers are described with a real naiveté which made me feel quite sympathetic towards them. On the other hand, some of their adult selves are much less likeable and didn't seem to have reflected on their pasts with a very discerning eye. We meet the sneering Damian, who has fashioned himself into some sort of infamous anti-hero. Then there is Nick, who remains somewhat flippant about the whole affair. It really made me think about how we all judge situations slightly differently and about how bad we tend to be at taking a truly critical look at our own actions.

I find that novels with multiple narrators can be hit or miss but it works very well here. There are around 10 different perspectives so it's remarkable that each one has their own distinctive voice and I was never left flicking back the pages trying to remember who was talking, which I often find a problem with this kind of narrative. With so many versions of the same story you will find yourself wondering not only who is telling the truth but even: is there such a thing as an objective truth or does it depend on who you side with?  How many situations might you have encountered in your life where the truth has seemed clear cut but might have looked a whole lot different seen from another perspective?

As soon as I finished reading Rites I wanted to go and tell everyone I know to read it, because it would be a great one to discuss and pick over with a group of friends or a book club. Everyone will be left with their own opinions about what exactly went on, and everyone will sympathise with some characters more than others. It has prompted a good dose of self-scrutiny and I think it's a story that will stay with me for a long time. So please go and pick up a copy, and then come back and tell me what you think so we can have a natter about it!


8 comments:

  1. This is a really good review - it makes me want to read the book! I must have a look for this - and yay! Manchester!! Did the setting add to the story at all??
    Lynn :D

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    1. To be honest, no, the Manchester setting wasn't really important in the grand scheme of things, but it made me smile. I am glad to hear it's interested you - you might want to check back when the Literary Blog Hop giveaway starts on February the 9th as I will have a copy up for grabs!

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  2. I'm originally from south Manchester so the setting does sound good (although the city has changed since I lived there). i haven't heard of this book at all so it's always a pleasant surprise when something appears that sounds worth reading - loke this one.

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    1. Didn't realise you were originally a Mancunian, Sarah! To be honest the setting is not incredibly important to the book but it did make me warm to it even more. Definitely worth reading - if you pop back when the Literary Blog Hop giveaway starts on Feb 9th I will have a copy to give away so you could try your luck :-)

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  3. Great review, think I will have to keep a wee eye out for this. Hadn't heard of it before!

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

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    1. It's a really good one, Lainy, and I will be giving away a copy from Feb 9th as part of the Literary Blog Hop so check back then!

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  4. There is so much in this book that excites me...the characters when they are young and then older, the storyline, its impact or lack of on the characters when they're older, the issue of memories and how flexible they are...and that's before I've read the book!
    Thank you for such a great post about a book and author that is new to me.

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    1. I really, really liked this one and I'm glad the review has piqued your interest Amy! I'd love to hear your thoughts after you've read it.

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