Book review: The Tricky Art of Forgiveness, Meredith Jaffé

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If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive.

Mother Therese

The delicate art of forgiveness is a light novel with a heavy heart. With the narrative buzzing with passion and color, Meredith Jaffé builds the story of two young lovers’ progress through the conventional stages of partnership and settling down to start a family. When they become empty nesters, change is a difficult adjustment, especially for Diana who sometimes feels insecure and empty.

Should we sacrifice ourselves to love and learn to forgive? Will love always bring us pain, at some point? Jaffé’s novel recently joins a slew of novels that see female protagonists grappling with dated concepts of domesticity and expectation, in close company with writers such as Elizabeth Gilbert, Rachel Yoder and Kimberley Allsopp.

The delicate art of forgiveness resonates with ‘is that it?’ kind of times, where Diana is forced to look at her life, all that she’s invested her love and her years in, and consider that maybe things aren’t as perfect and she’s not as glad it looks.

We’ve all had those moments, some of us multiple times in a lifetime, and the skill of Jaffé’s writing lies in how he portrays slow, crumbling internal crises in characters and instills pathos.

Although essentially “light reading”, the novel’s themes strike a deeper chord and a sign towards a place we all may have been before and offer solace if we find ourselves there. Who do we turn to when “things are falling apart,” as we stand on the precipice of a new phase of life, potentially alone?

The central drama begins as Diana unpacks her belongings in a new apartment near the coast in which she and Will have downsized. It’s just before their 30th wedding anniversary and upon unboxing, she finds a note in her husband’s cashmere sweater. In cursive script are the words: ‘I forgive you’. From there, Diana must put the pieces of her deception together and decide what to do about it.

Over the pages that follow, flashbacks to happier and more desperate times unfold, as we are given an intimate window into marriage, early happiness, partial betrayals, and struggling against all odds to stay together. , to carry it out.

The character of Diana sometimes comes across as naively optimistic, but full of doubt in others. His inner dialogue about the fear of change is a nuance that many readers could relate to, like the famous song by Fleetwood Mac, the discovery of the note seems to cause a “landslide” that causes great introspection, see his reflection in the mirror and consider what to do.

The path of least resistance would be to stay in denial, to keep quiet, to lie to yourself and your partner about relationship issues. Still, we are encouraged to believe that the consequences could be more damaging than airing out the dirty laundry. “Everyone has a secret” is the title of the first chapter and this sentiment rings true in JafféThe fiction.

Will’s notable absence for most of the novel (and much of their married life, due to his jet-set career), is palpable. How can Diana not help but feel resentful about the domestic life she’s been tucked into as the primary housewife and caregiver? Her rock ‘n roll lifestyle as a young musician before she married and had children is described at the beginning of the book. Will’s jealousy showed some of the signs of what we might now call “coercive control” to make him leave this life to become solely a housewife.

Read: Book review: The Murder Rule, Dervla McTiernan

We begin to wonder how much of this life path Will and Diana chose together was desired, and how much resulted from societal expectations and economic necessity. That’s not to say the love and attachment between them aren’t skillfully portrayed, just that Jaffé portrays denial so well.

Throughout the marriage there have been times when self-denial and forgiveness have occurred, but perhaps the overarching theme is that of self-forgiveness, “the most delicate art of all”, as the characters really have to consider who they are and what they value, maybe 30 years too late.

This book is balanced in terms of hope and disappointment and although it is not profoundly deep, it could be a source of comfort as well as just fun for anyone (i.e. everyone) who once suffered heartache and wondered about the life they built and asked ‘is this it?’

The delicate art of forgivenesss by Meredith Jaffe
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9781460760277
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352 pages
Release date: May 2, 2022
MSRP: $32.99

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