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AM Homes answers your questions about prize winning novel MAY WE BE FORGIVEN

(49 Posts)
RebeccaSMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Oct-13 16:05:42

Winner of the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction, May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes is a darkly comic satire on contemporary America and our November Book of the Month.

Harold Silver, a Nixon-obsessed history professor, finds himself in charge of two adolescents when his bullying brother, George, is locked up in a mental institute having killed his wife (who was in bed with Harold at the time).

Following scenes of adultery, a fatal car accident and violent murder, Harold embarks on a weird and wonderful voyage of self-discovery, encompassing diverse elements of surreal American suburban life. Despite the horrific events that occurred, a messy yet satisfying type of life begins to grow around Harold, quite distinct from the 'ideal' of the American Dream.

This book is not for the faint hearted, yet it could also be one of the most laugh-out-loud funny books you?ll read this year.

Granta has 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours go to the book of the month page. We?ll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that AM Homes will be joining us and answering questions about May We Be Forgiven, her writing career and her previous novels on Tuesday 3 December. So please feel free to discuss the book on the thread throughout the month, pop up any advance questions and come and chat to A M Homes live, Tues 3 Dec at 9-10pm.


Sadly, due to unforseen scriptwriting commitments, AM Homes is unable to join us live next Tuesday for the webchat, but she will be answering all your questions in an emailed Q&A.

Please post all your author questions up here before 10pm on Tuesday 4th December, and I will then send the messages on to the author. We'll post her answers the following week.

RebeccaSMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 24-Oct-13 10:28:25

The book giveaway is now closed. We'll email the 50 people who have been selected to receive books as soon as we hear from the publishers that they have been sent out.

annie06 Sun 27-Oct-13 19:11:23

Thank you so much for my copy of My We Be Forgiven. Looks interesting. I'll be back with a review!

sallyc06 Tue 29-Oct-13 06:54:15

Thank you so much for my copy of My We Be Forgiven. I could not put it down, what a fantastic book, should be made into a film without any doubt. I really found it drew my interest and was enthrilling.

NoWomanNoCry Tue 29-Oct-13 22:23:59

Thank you for my copy of 'May We Be Forgiven'. I will be back soon with a review.

BlackbeltinBS Wed 30-Oct-13 13:28:48

I am about a third of the way through my copy (thank you). LOVING it so far!

katb1973 Wed 30-Oct-13 23:18:49

I love A M Homes so I was thrilled to receive a copy. Thanks so much Mumsnet. This book is a little less controversial than some of her other books but still just as riveting. The opening pages of the book just blast you, car accident, murder, complex family relationships. You follow Harry, the main character, on a life journey. I started off disliking him but by the end he'd evolved and he'd started to grow on me. I would say as always that this book is a modern take on contemporary American society and whilst the focus of the book is on how Harry handles taking care of his brother's life while he's incarcerated the various subplots are engaging and stories within themselves. I loved it but then I've loved all her books so it's no surprise.

NoWomanNoCry Thu 31-Oct-13 21:37:32

Thank you for the free copy. I have never read anything by AM Homes before. It is a very moving and disturbing book and very well written. However it was not my cup of tea. I would say though people must read it themselves to make up their own mind about the book.

lolancurly Fri 08-Nov-13 08:37:54

Thank you for my free copy of May We Be Forgiven. I loved this book! Before I read it, I had listened to the audiobook and this got me hooked. The audio book is narrated so well, and with such dark humour, that I couldn't wait to read the book. I loved how the main character, Harry, slowly acquires the odd collection of people who come to live with him and the way the end up as a kind of family. The stupid mistakes that Harry makes on the way often lead to some very funny and dark moments but I always found him engaging and likeable. I really did laugh out loud reading this and there was a sense of never knowing what Harry would do next.

sherazade Tue 12-Nov-13 10:30:32

spoiler alert
This book brought out mixed emotions, but most frequent was the frustration at the disconnection, the yawning gap between groups of people: young and old, men and women, rich and poor, parents and their children. Until the grand finale when they all exist harmoniously in the White Man's melting pot. I'm intrigued to know a few things:

1. The book reminded me so much of plays by Harold Pinter. Is he your inspiration or was it coincedential? The fast unfolding of random events that spiral out of control often stemming from and leading to acts of violence, lack of conscience that drives foward the main characters, and their inability (or unwillingness) to reflect meaningfully on their own/others actions that results in disaster?

2. How did Harold manage so seamlessly to stabilise and care for a boy with ADHD and ASD?

3. Harold's period of relative insanity, in the middle of the book, made me start to wonder if indeed Harold was George ! Are the characters intended to overlap?

4. Harold finally lets go of George at the end of the book and that is why he is able to move on (I think!). George's period in the jungle, where Harold suffers from paranoia, flashbacks form his past and present, mirrors George's mindless roaming in the wild where he is uncontained. when George is transferred to a more 'traditional' institution, Harold is able to detoxify himself from a traumatic life that was spoilt by George by compartmentalising George mentally . Is this what the witch doctor in Africa was trying to rid Harold from?

5. Do you think that the following are stereotypes?:
The unfeeling, childless Chinese wife who is highly successful with little human emotion
The overweight hispanic child with ADHD and ASD who seems to overcome all his problems and even lose weight when he moves into a white home

6. Which of these was Jane- a loving mother who was dearly loved and missed by her doting children, or a woman so detached from her children that she sent them to boarding school and mistook their genius for learning disabilities because she couldn't cope with them?

BlackbeltinBS Sat 16-Nov-13 20:08:21

I enjoyed it, to the extent I've asked for something else by the same author on my Christmas list. Sherazade's post above has made me think about it though and made me want to reread it for a second time.

LornaGoon Sun 17-Nov-13 14:08:47

Thanks for my book MN! Thoroughly enjoyed it and got through it quickly for a slow reader like me.

Loved the style of writing and there were some genuinely funny bits, especially some of the sex scenes. Its like Harry expects to find solace or fulfilment in these escapades but really they're awkward, unsexy, even ugly but darkly-funny. I really loved how Jewishness was explored - often funny without being stereotypical.

I didn't really see his ex-wife as a stereotype as such (FYI she is Chinese-American, which is different from 'Chinese' and is markedly pointed out by Harry). She doesn't feature too heavily in the novel, which I found odd (Harry doesn't seem to involve himself in the demise of his marriage); she is characterised as high-powered and ambitious, emotionally cold. But she contrasts to other aspects of 'Chineseness/ 'Americanness'; the young woman who works with Harry and her mother who gives him the all-American Hersey chocolate bar.

The ex wife, for me, is about the melding together of the more negative aspects of American's melting pot - the hardworking Chineseness and highly ambitious Americanness: sky high stilettos, treading on any little piss ant that gets in your way. Which is exactly what the brother George does - to achieve what he wants he literally drives through any obstacles regardless of the sanctity of life. The chocolate bar is a generous act of giving something sweet and comforting, which is what Harry does by the end of the book, re-constructing what the all-American family is with its hodge podge mix of people in the nice house with the picket fence, albeit invisible and electrified (!).

I too struggled a bit with how easily Harry took on the parenting role. But thought his relationship with Nixon was woven really well through the novel.

I found it to be a positive message in the end about tolerance and acceptance, without being twee or sickly and without everything being perfectly worked out in the final pages. Will definitely seek out more of Homes' books.

Hullygully Wed 20-Nov-13 12:05:24

Hello AM, I have read all your books and I love you very much.

Some are considerably grimmer than others, and I note similar themes running through them. This Book Will Save Your Life is a bit jollier, did something nice happen to you around then? And, do you utterly despair of human beings? I do.

queenoftheschoolrun Fri 22-Nov-13 19:39:11

Thank you for my copy of May We Be Forgiven. It's not the type of book I would usually choose and I like to try something different. Much as I enjoyed reading it and agree that it was well written, if I'm honest I didn't find it particularly gripping. I think because I didn't engage with any of the characters I found I didn't care very much what ultimately happened to them. I have found myself thinking about the book and the issues it presents since I finished reading it though which is a sign of a good book and I may well try one of her other novels.

donnie Sun 24-Nov-13 18:06:53

I have to say that 'This book will save your life' is one of the best I have ever read!

BouncingJellyfish Sun 24-Nov-13 20:25:27

This book is the reason I've joined a book club- to discover brilliant books that I wouldn't normally choose for myself. Thoroughly enjoyed this book and by the end I really loved Harry, and was really rooting for him. Very well written and very funny in places. Are you as obsessed with Nixon as Harry was, and what/who were your inspirations for this story?

sherazade Mon 25-Nov-13 18:34:33

donnie, long time no see ;-)

MrsSquirrel Mon 25-Nov-13 19:15:46

The way Harry doesn't involve himself in the demise of his marriage really rang true with me, because my friend's xh was just the same during their divorce. Couldn't cope, felt guilty, and so did nothing.

I LOVED all of the Nixon stuff. What gave you the idea of linking up Nixon with forgiveness?

boysathomeonly Mon 25-Nov-13 21:27:27

Thank you so much for my free copy of the book. I really enjoyed it even though it didn't seem to be my cup of tea at first. I was really drawn into Harold's life and loved his new family at the end of the book. I could easily keep on reading about them.

TillyBookClub Fri 29-Nov-13 14:21:24


Sadly, due to unforseen scriptwriting commitments, AM Homes is unable to join us live next Tuesday for the webchat, but she will be answering all your questions in an emailed Q&A.

Please post all your author questions up here before 10pm on Tuesday 4th December, and I will then send the messages on to the author. We'll post her answers the following week.

Many thanks to all those who have already posted such excellent and thoughtful messages - keep discussing the book here and don't forget you can ask AM Homes about any of her books, or her writing career, or whatever you fancy, really.

Looking forward to hearing everyone's opinions...

ScoobertDoo Fri 29-Nov-13 23:57:46

I am not yet out of my teenage years, and therefore have only just left the safe cocoon of young adult fiction and ventured into the world of adult fiction. I have often found, both in real life, and in books, that the adult world is a strange and scary place, and adapting to it is difficult. May We Be Forgiven, for me, summed up these feelings. It scared me a little. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, because I really did. It means I didn't quite get it.
A lot happens in the first few chapters. There's an affair and then a murder and then a divorce and suddenly two kids and it's all a whirlwind. But I didn't feel that Harold really cared all that much about any of that. He didn't feel like a real person until very near the end. It seemed that the kids weren't overly concerned by the fact that their father murdered their mother, either.
However, as I mentioned before, the characters grew and developed through the book, which was nice to see.
I found the Nixon element of the plot very interesting and definitely a good parallel to what was going on within Harry's own life. His enthusiasm for his subject was clear, though it felt, at least at the beginning, that this was the only thing he truly cared about.
I thought a lot about the book when I finished it and it grew on me the more I pondered it.
So although May We Be Forgiven scared me a little, maybe that's a good thing.

sirendippity Sat 30-Nov-13 08:36:09

A rollercoaster of events that eventually come full circle. The main character is blank to start with and gradually develops into a social being by the end -without really understanding how he got there. There are lots of funny scenes, dialogue exchanges and a strong thread of the limitations of the physical body which constantly undercuts the possibility of developing any moral or sentimental tone.

Harry is a man who (lots & lots of) things just happen to, he's an example/ or a vehicle for lots of unconnected ideas and plot devices rather than a character. He doesn't judge anything (least of all himself) but just accepts the fantastical things that happen. He picks up women, and a whole new family community as he sheds his former life. There are no financial limitations in the story which does enable him to be completely free and the events to get progressively fantastical.

The bits when the writer lost me were the pages and pages about Harry's fascination with Nixon - these needed cutting down.

This book fizzes with ideas and hyperbole - the best thing to do is just go along for the ride. If you're getting a bit tired of one plot strand or character - don't worry there'll be lots of others coming along in a few pages.

A question for a m holmes - What did Harry look like and why did he get so much sex?!

TillyBookClub Mon 02-Dec-13 09:47:52

Just a quick reminder that you have until 10pm tomorrow to put your questions to the marvellous AM Homes. It can be about any of her books, or what she's reading now, or anything you like.

Thanks again to all those for their reviews.

PanicMode Mon 02-Dec-13 18:04:26

It's one of the most original books I've read for a while, and I did enjoy the black humour in it, but found its view of American surburbia very depressing.

I'd like to ask at what point the book became a novel, rather than a short story? It seems that it starts like a bullet train, with so much happening, as if it's a short story or novella but then it slows down so much and begins to meander, more as though it became a longer work than was originally anticpated.

Clawdy Mon 02-Dec-13 19:05:29

I have just finished reading this for our book group,and found it gripping and fascinating,especially the Richard Nixon references! My question is this : How much of the storyline about the undiscovered short stories was true? And what did Julie Nixon Eisenhower say about the book? So glad I've got the chance to ask you!

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