Thursday, June 24, 2010

"The Art of Devotion"

Samantha Bruce-Benjamin was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she earned a Masters Degree in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh. A former BBC Editor, she began her editorial career at Random House. She now lives in New York.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Art of Devotion, and reported the following:
…herself against the unpleasantness of others. I understood the logic of Adora’s argument but, despite how much I loved Gigi, I never felt it rang true or understood everyone’s tacit acceptance that Genevieve was the innocent victim of schoolgirl malice. Not once did one of us ever ask why. Why Genevieve: What was it about her that made people turn away?

It seems to me that for everything there is a reason – every regret and disappointment, something we do contributes to it. Perhaps I lack the compassion to understand what Gigi was forced to tolerate. It’s certainly possible. After all, I have no illusions left about myself or of what I am capable.
P. 69 finds Sophie, one of the four female narrators in The Art of Devotion, considering the character (moral and otherwise) of Genevieve (or Gigi as she is also nicknamed), the young girl who becomes the focus of her daughter Adora’s perceived obsession as they summer each year on an island in the Mediterranean Sea in the 1920s and 30s. In essence, p.69 constitutes only a third of a page, yet it does introduce one of the pivotal themes of the novel: that of perception. This story, at its heart, is about the judgments we make based on the information we receive from others. It is also a narrative, by its end, where a reader is forced to re-examine everything he or she has accepted as truth, and to question the narrator in whom such trust has been placed, subsequently raising the specter of the unreliable narrator.

The decision to write a novel founded on four female voices was entirely deliberate – my hope was that a reader might readily identify with at least one of these characters and allocate their trust accordingly. P. 69 offers a prime example of such a voice, asking – implicitly – to be trusted. In this passage, the reader finds Sophie not only questioning her judgment for the first time in the novel, but also introducing an early hint of doubt as to Genevieve’s character. Sophie’s narration here is not particularly kind. She’s talking about a bullied child and pondering whether this ‘victim,’ Genevieve, actually contributed to her persecution, which either displays a staggering lack of compassion or a penetrating insight based on what she, Sophie, although not the reader, knows as she narrates this passage from her present-day vantage point looking back to the past. Certainly, Sophie, by questioning her own judgment, might be perceived to be playing on a reader’s sympathies; she suggests that she may be wrong; maybe she shouldn’t be trusted. Yet, the ball is squarely placed in the reader’s court in terms of what to believe, which was precisely my intention. So, the dilemma remains: To trust Sophie, or not to trust Sophie? I can’t tell you, alas. You will have to turn to p.70 to find out….!
Browse inside The Art of Devotion, and learn more about the book and author at Samantha Bruce-Benjamin's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue