In her garden, ensconced in the lush vegetation of the Western Cape, Clare Wald, world-renowned author, mother, critic, takes up her pen and confronts her life. Sam Leroux has returned to South Africa to embark upon a project that will establish his reputation – he is to write Clare’s biography. But how honest is she prepared to be? Was she complicit in past crimes; is she an accomplice or a victim? Are her crimes against her family real or imagined? As Sam and Clare turn over the events of her life, she begins to seek reconciliation, absolution. But in the stories she weaves and the truth just below the surface of her shimmering prose, lie Sam’s own ghosts.

Absolution shines light on contemporary South Africa and the long dark shadow of the recent past, the elusive nature of truth and self-perception and the mysterious alchemy of the creative process. 

Absolution is published by Atlantic Books (UK & Commonwealth), Riverhead Books (USA), and Knopf (Canada).

It is appearing in translation from the following publishers: De Bezige Bij (Netherlands), Cappelen Damm (Norway), Galaxia Gutenberg (Spain), People's Press (Denmark), DVA (Germany), Éditions Robert Laffont (France), Achuzat Bayit (Israel), Garzanti Libri (Italy), Świat Książki (Poland), Editura Univers (Romania), and Alfaguara (Brazil). Unabridged audiobook by W.F. Howes. 


Shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2014, Winner of the Spear's/Laurent Perrier Best First Book Award 2012, Longlisted for the Prix du Premier Roman Étranger (France), Shortlisted for the Prix Page/America (France), Shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize, Shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize 2012, Shorlisted for the Authors' Club (UK) Best First Novel Award, Shortlisted for the Spear's Best Novel Award 2012, Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2012, Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2012.

What the critics said

“when you finish Absolution there is one sure thing that stays with you: Patrick Flanery is an exceptionally gifted and intelligent novelist, and he is just getting started.” - Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker

“[B]rilliantly realized”, “an astonishingly vivid and insightful tale [….]. Everything is here […] the very essence of what it is like to be at the tip of the African continent, to live in a country now much more integrated with the rest of world and yet still poignantly its own troubled place.” - Martin Rubin, Wall Street Journal

“Absolution is an impressive debut, questioning wrongs buried in the censorship of the Struggle”. “With probing finesses, Flanery opens up the question of guilt in two victims who may have been accessories to killers. The physical violence and Absolution’s landscapes tell of South Africa, but the characters’ interiority and the sophisticated sense of the past is wonderfully Henry James”. - Lyndall Gordon, The Literary Review

“Flanery has talent to spare, and he’s a talent to keep an eye on.” - Alexandra Fuller, New York Times Book Review

"Read Absolution. It’s up there with the best on the trauma that defines our country." - Sue Grant-Marshall, Business Day (South Africa)

“Absolution serves as proof, if any were needed, that a novel can be both unashamedly literary and compellingly readable”. - David Evans, Financial Times

"[A] mere handful of pages into Absolution it is evident that [Flanery] has got the measure of a part of South Africa’s soul and that [...] the book is set to become the definitive biography of a particularly fraught moment in the country’s history. [....] If Absolution is any indication of what we can expect of him, the world of fiction has gained a new, original voice that is going to demand our attention for a long time to come." - Lomin Saayman, Sunday Times (South Africa)

“Flanery is a talented prose stylist, and he deserves comparison to big names like Philip Roth and Margaret Atwood. This is a complex and ambitious novel in a grand tradition that dares to ask questions about censorship, memory, and political responsibility, all while maintaining a very human story of loss and forgiveness at its core. South Africa and its many familiar contradictions have gone underrepresented in American literature, but this impressive book will go a long way toward amending that deficit.” - Nicholas Mancusi and Malcolm Jones, The Daily Beast

“An inquiry into the ethical accountability of the writer and the ethical and epistemological problems of ‘life-writing’”; “the tidiness, the ounce-perfect freighting, of certain developments bring with them the benefits of Flanery’s historical intelligence. The novel builds up a glorious mosaic of forms”. - Leo Robson, The New Statesman

“This is a novel about the capacities and effects of storytelling, not in some abstruse, philosophical sense, but investigated with a compelling and dramatic immediacy. [….] The novel is rich and subtle in its textures and its evocation of characters, interactions and events. And it compels one to think, somewhat obliquely, about many of the questions that have preoccupied all South Africans and, particularly, post-apartheid novelists. [….] Flanery takes nothing for granted. Just as our scene is less familiar to him, his writing makes it somehow less familiar to us. His perspective on South Africa is less resigned, less exhausted—which, in truth, is a very welcome relief. [….] Flanery is an important interlocutor in post-apartheid literature. He has entered the conversation elegantly, insightfully and with flourish”. - Michael Titlestad, Mail & Guardian [South Africa]              

A “compelling debut”; “A literary thriller whose writing is consistently first class”. - Adam O’Riordan, The Observer

“Flanery is already being compared to novelists like J.M. Coetzee and Margaret Atwood and, like those writers, he doesn’t shy from tackling big themes: collective guilt, for instance, or the complexity of forgiveness. But Flanery is also smart enough to know that the stories of individuals are what really matter – that the political is always and inevitably personal.” - Joel Yanofsky, Montreal Gazette

“Apartheid’s legacy lies at the heart of Patrick Flanery’s exceptional debut novel Absolution, which explores how the traumas of apartheid linger in South African society and asks difficult and often troubling questions about the relationship between power and truth. [....] Absolution deliberately refuses the consolations of resolution. Yet in a way that is the real achievement of this remarkable novel and its reminder of William Faulkner’s dictum, that the past is never dead, it is not even past.” - James Bradley, The Australian

“The wonder of this outstanding first novel is that Flanery weaves the stories together with assurance and craftsmanship, digging underneath many received ideas about the old and new South Africa”. - Kate Saunders, The Times

“a taut literary thriller”; “A very clever, beautifully written book”. - John Harding, The Daily Mail

“a gripping debut novel which examines the slipperiness of truth”. - Lucy Beresford, The Sunday Telegraph 

“attempts to untangle the past and sort through the blurring of memory are masterfully handled by Flanery, who writes with a confidence and erudition that belie his young age”. - Elena Seymenliyska, on “highlights from a strong season for first novels”, Daily Telegraph

“an exceptionally intelligent, multi-layered novel encompassing politics, history, a gripping storyline and complex characters. It has absorbing depictions of grief, guilt, parenthood and sibling rivalry, and is beautifully written. The prose is lucid and strong, scenes of crime are full of suspense, and time and again phrases haunt with their imagery. [....]  Absolution is an exceptional book.” – Leyla Sanai, The Independent

“Flanery’s writing is elegant and eloquent [...]. [H]e is an author to watch.” - Julie Trevelyan, Booklist

“Flanery has constructed a haunting labyrinth of mirrors, fact reflecting remembrance, lie reflecting evasion. Complex in theme, complex in narrative, this is a masterful literary exploration of the specter of conscience and the formidable cost of reconciliation.” - Kirkus starred review 

“Absolution is a book of questions about what is right and who is pure. [....] One of the constant strengths of this novel is the way it faces the violence of everyday life [....]. With censorship now likely to make a comeback under the current government, what writers do becomes increasingly important. And a novel like Absolution is timely.”  - Christopher Hope, The Guardian

“Patrick Flanery is an extraordinary new writer”. - GQ

"S’il y a un livre à ne pas rater ... c’est ce premier roman au suspense imparable, à la construction intelligente, et à la tension continue. Lisez-le." - Elle

"A riveting and beautifully constructed first novel by an iconoclastic American". - Les Inrockuptibles.

Advance Praise

“Patrick Flanery is an extraordinary new writer. Absolution is smart, moving and provocative, a rare combination of page-turner and literary triumph. More than a book about South Africa, this is a book about the hunt for the truth, a hunt that is as universal as it is essential. Utterly captivating, this is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in a long while.”  - Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

“One rarely encounters such a confident first novel as Absolution. Patrick Flanery arrives on the scene wholly formed:  a writer of superb self-confidence, depth of insight, and resolute clarity. Clare Wald, who occupies the white-hot center of this story, will stay with me. Flanery has a great deal to say about the art of biography, about narrative and its discontents, about the ways a blighted history infiltrates, infects, and transmogrifies the present. As the title suggests, the search for absolution is a human project of vast dimensions, never quite finished.  This is a beautifully written piece of fiction, a major accomplishment.”  - Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Passages of Herman Melville