About the Book:
The incandescent new novel from the acclaimed Miles Franklin winner author of The Eye of the Sheep and The Choke.
Lawrence Loman is a bright, caring, curious boy with a gift for painting. He lives at home with his mother and younger brother, and the future is laid out before him, full of promise. But when he is ten, an experience of betrayal takes it all away, and Lawrence is left to deal with the devastating aftermath.
As he grows into a man, how will he make sense of what he has suffered? He cannot rewrite history, but must he be condemned to repeat it?
Lawrence finds meaning in the best way he knows. By surrendering himself to art and nature, he creates beauty – beauty made all the more astonishing and soulful for the deprivation that gives rise to it.
Infinite Splendours is an extraordinary novel, incandescent with love and compassion, rich in colour and character. The power and virtuosity of Laguna’s writing make it impossible for us to look away; by being seen, Lawrence is redeemed.
And we, as readers, have had our minds and hearts opened in ways we can’t forget.
**Please note this review contains spoilers**
Up until this point, I wasn’t aware that you could be both captivated and repulsed by a book in equal measure. I’ve read all of Sofie Laguna’s novels so I’m no stranger to her writing and the themes she consistently gravitates towards. But this was hard going. Infinite Splendours, despite its evocative title and splendid cover, despite the indication within the book description that it is a novel about art and redemption, is actually a novel about child abuse that pushes the reader into a very uncomfortable and somewhat disturbing grey area that no one wants to consider. Redemption was absent, and to me, what inspired the art was disturbing.
The first and second parts of the novel were captivating, although, given I’ve read Laguna before, I was filled with a sense of foreboding. But the writing, as to be expected, is exquisite, so evocative and rich in the type of quiet detail that I love, characteristic of the very best literary talent. This is why I return to Laguna’s work with each new release. There were some pointed themes to rise out of these two sections, most interesting to me, was the exploration of the greater ripple effects of war on a nation. Lawrence’s mother, Louise, and his uncle, Reggie, were victims of this. Their mother dead from illness, their father unable to look after them, suffering from PTSD from serving in WWI. They are given to ‘friends’; the inevitable happens, and thus begins a cycle of child abuse that reverberates into the next generation. Louise’s husband in turn is killed while serving in WWII, leaving her a widow and her two young sons fatherless and unprotected.
It would be easy to demonise Reggie, the uncle that comes to stay, ingratiates himself into the family, beguiles a young Lawrence with praise and a nurturing of his artistic talents that was up until that point missing. Reggie’s interest seemed genuine; I feel it was, there was a reluctance within him and his hasty retreat from their lives, to me, indicates a deliberate removal from temptation. But the horror of what he did to Lawrence, physically, and emotionally; he not only stole Laurie’s innocence and trust, he stole the art right out of his life, the art that he himself had encouraged. He utterly ruined this ten-year-old boy, destroyed him completely.
‘I did not paint anymore, although I continued to see opportunities where the search for something unseen might begin. I saw it in chimney smoke, in fallen branches, in spider’s webs. In nests, in rain and in rainbows. I saw it in the range of mountains, in the movement of clouds, in sunlight, in flowers on the branch, the beaks of birds.’
Lawrence goes from being bright and involved to having a stammer, losing all social skills, afflicted by extreme trauma induced anxiety which manifested itself physically, in a most debilitating manner, whereby he relived his trauma each time he had to move his bowels, consequently leading to an eating disorder and bowel misfunction. His brother Paul knew that Reggie had done something to Lawrence, he had never trusted his uncle, but Lawrence couldn’t confide, Paul was eight, and what can a small boy do for another small boy? I believe the neighbour suspected as well, but again, Lawrence would not disclose what had happened, so all she could do was offer a quiet brand of support to him, a safe place for just being. Of course, Lawrence never told his mother. I couldn’t help but judge Louise harshly. Her son changed overnight, in the most dramatic way, and the timing was exact. She knew what her brother endured as a child; she endured it herself. Yet she chose instead to ignore and enable; she spoke for Lawrence, cutting off every stammer; she treated him like a child to the point where if you didn’t consider the trauma, you’d have believed that as an adult he was simple minded. She did more harm to him and created an adult that was ill-equipped for society.
Then, an adult Lawrence meets a ten-year-old boy and it all went south for me. Yes, I am aware of intergenerational abuse, the cycles that people and families get caught in, but it was just too much for me. It was the yearning that was the most unsettling of all, coupled with Lawrence’s inability to adult, and by this, I mean he was actually delusional. It wasn’t straightforward lust and desire or even a need to hurt; it was almost like Lawrence needed to inhabit a ten-year-old boy, to go back to that point in his life where it all changed. But this yearning was sinister, and even when he copped a hiding for it, years later, another ten-year-old boy comes along and it starts all over again, with the exact same outcome. Herein lies all that mucky grey matter we were forced as readers to wade through. Of course, I felt for Lawrence, but I felt for Lawrence the child. Lawrence the adult was too damaged for redemption. He was lost. And he was dangerous. I kind of couldn’t wait to finish this novel, to be honest. But I couldn’t stop reading it either. My only advice with this one is to not be drawn in by the cover and to proceed with caution.
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of Infinite Splendours for review.
About the Author:
Sofie Laguna’s first novel for adults, One Foot Wrong, was published throughout Europe, the US and the UK, was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. Her second novel for adults, The Eye of the Sheep, won the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and longlisted for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. Sofie Laguna’s third novel, The Choke, won the 2018 Indie Book Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, the Voss Literary Prize, the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal and the Australian Book Industry Award, and longlisted for the Stella Prize, the Kibble Award and the International Dublin IMPAC Award. Sofie’s many books for young people have been published in the US, the UK and in translation throughout Europe and Asia. She has been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Award, and her books have been named Honour Books and Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released October 2020