Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett


Ok...it was bound to happen after the string of 5 star reviews I've had. Let's talk about Surrender. I've had this book sitting patiently on my shelf for awhile and I've been anxiously awaiting it. It's won numerous awards and I'm not saying that it's not deserving of them. The book is absolutely beautifully written. Hartnett certainly has a gift when it comes to writing, and her story is a smart one. Here's my problem...I can't remember the time that I've read a more depressing story! I don't mind depressing novels at all. In fact, as messed up as it may sound, I usually prefer them. But this is the most dreary, without hope, not a single ray of light novel that I have read in a while.

The book begins with our main character Anwell, who later takes on the name Gabriel (after the archangel), on his deathbed at the age of 20. To show the beauty of her words, I give you the opening passage:

"I am dying: it's a beautiful word. Like the long slow sigh of a cello: dying. But the sound of it is the only beautiful thing about it."

And from this point, the novel gets progressively MORE dreary as Anwell tells the story of his short 20 years and what led up to his current state. Anwell comes from an abusive home and there is something that he has done in his past that is a constant haunt to him...something that is normally construed as evil, but was done in a moment of panic by a boy who is a good natured soul. Anwell meets a boy named Finnigan one day and forms a friendship based on a pact: Anwell will do only good, Finnigan will do only evil. This is Anwell's chance at redemption for his past. Soon, a string of arson attacks plagues the town that Anwell lives in and he realizes how dangerous his new friend is. Anwell's only other friend is his dog, Surrender, and I have to leave the rest of the plot synopsis here as the tale would be given away to say more.

You can see why I was drawn to this story. I still maintain that it's a well written novel, a powerful and memorable story, a heartbreaking story, and deserving of it's praise. But it left me feeling so down and there was never really a moment in the book where there was any ray of light for this character. As you can probably tell, this novel deals with mental illness and of course I have a special place for characters whose lives are deeply affected by that. I think that's what was most disturbing for me...no redemption was offered. I understand that many people with mental illness do indeed suffer every day, but this was just such a bleak scenario where things just got worse and worse. As a counselor, I'd like to look towards a ray of light and trying to find hope.

So there it is...has anyone else read this one? I'd be curious to hear other people's thoughts on it.

35 comments:

DesLily said...

umm nope, i haven't read this one.. and i can pretty safely say I probably never will! I can take some depression (heck i live with it) but not to that degree.. nope it would put me in a place i already don't like!

I think you need to read something lighter.. gee, I may know just the story! *cough*cough

umm hey go check out my latest post! that should make you smile!

Chris said...

Deslily, I'm right there with you...it was just a bit too depressing for me...and that's putting it mildly...but it was a good book. I do need something lighter ;) Going to the movies tonight, then I'll do some happier reading! On my way to your blog!!

Anonymous said...

Surrender is a brilliant book and its brilliance overcomes any 'depressing' elements to it. Hartnett is a great writer.

Becky said...

I haven't read this one, and I probably won't. Well, never say never. But it's nice to know that it has good elements going for it. I think you have to be in a certain mood for it maybe??? Who knows...

Becky said...

Out of curiousity, Chris, have you ever read Boy in the Striped Pajamas? I think the author is John Boyne. It was the worst best book or the best worst book I'd ever read. Very very depressing, but yet beautifully written at the same time. Just a really dismal ending.

Eva said...

What a gorgeous opening. I'm going to put this on the TBR list, and wait until everything's going well in my life so I won't get too down! lol

Chris said...

Anonymous, I agree that it's brilliantly written. I find it hard to say though that just because something is brilliant that it automatically erases any depressing elements. I wasn't saying it was a bad book at all...I agree Hartnett is a great writer, I said that in my review, it was just too much of a downer for my taste.

Becky, Definitely think that I just wasn't in the right mood for this one at this time...just too heavy for me right now. But it's beautifully written. And you just found the perfect words to describe this book for me!!! Thanks so much :) It's the Best Worst Book! I'll have to check out the Boy in the Striped Pajamas sometime.

Eva, The whole book is written beautifully. She has a gift with words. Definitely not something to read when you're feeling down though. It is a good book though. I feel horrible like I tore it to shreds, but I didn't mean to...it was just so sad :(

Fence said...

Hmmmm, maybe there is something wrong with me because this review makes me want to go pick it up and see just how depressing it really is. :)

Chris said...

Fence, LOL, you sound like me..if I hadn't written this review I would've gone out and done the same thing!

cj said...

I'm a little bit like Fence. I'm adding it to my list.

You know, the neverending one because of you guys.

cjh

Chris said...

CJ, I have you to blame for a few additions to my list as well :p Like I've told everyone else, this is definitely a good book, just depressing...

Rhinoa said...

Not heard of this before and apart from the depressing side, the quote you put up is really beautiful. Maybe it's because I have a thing for cellos, maybe it's because I like stuff a little depressing every so oftern, who can say!

Chris said...

Rhinoa, The writing of this one was top notch and if you liked the quote I suspect that you'd like the book as a whole. Beautiful writing.

M said...

Surrender is for mature teens, and very very strange and depressing. I loved it! I confused me, but made me want to read more and more and more!!! I want to read it over soon.

Chris said...

M, You know, the more I think about this book, the more that I think I'll come back to it at some time. It is certainly a novel that haunts it's reader! I can definitely understand your feelings on it.

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Surrenderer said...

I personally think the book wasn't so bad. Then again, I have been eading light, happy, obvious novels for a while, so Surrender represented an interesting and darker change. I'm also slightly innocuated to 'dark' stories, I guess...

Anonymous said...

I read it but I didn't get the end. I think that Finnigan is imaginary and that Anwell didn't really kill his parents. I think thta Anwell invented Finnigan to replace his dead brother. Can someone post a comment that explains it or at least what their hypothesis is?

Anonymous said...

i have read the book and thought it to be amazing both the interwind stories and the ending but i cant peice togther how gabe dying would kill finnagan were they the sam person please tell me what you think.

Chris said...

Hi there Anonymous, It's been awhile since I read this one now so I don't remember all of the details, but from what I gathered, they were the same person. Gabe was sort of an alter ego of Finnigan able to do everything that Finnigan couldn't. Good vs. Evil sort of thing. Sorry the book isn't fresher in my mind :( It definitely was a great book though!

Anonymous said...

hi! i loved the book surrender! it's one of my favorite books! yes, Gabriel and Finnigan are the same person, but i was a little confused by that too.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! By no means has this been a truly depressing book! Yes, it's sad that a person has to die. but why is he dying? For freedom! Happiness! Independance! He's an angel remember? he's going to eternal happiness. I was left with the longing to read it again lol after finishing the book. I cannot stop raving about it. I always became enthralled with the character Finnigan. Desptie the fact he's 1- not real and 2- the bad guy he is the coolest character ever. i don't have a great vocabulary but I'm digging deep to find the words for this book. Magnificent, genius, masterfully written, brilliant, amazing, wonderful just plain AHHHHHH!

The thing about this book is all the clues come together so well and the ending, although it completely throws you off is...is...astounding! I'm gonna cut this short but seriously. This book has changed me and read it! gtg!

immortiss said...

yep, i finished it few hours ago...u r definetly right. the character never had a chance at redemption...really deppressing but very well written...could have really done with a ray of light

Kristin said...

Regarding the depressing nature of the book: Re-read the last paragraph. There may have been no way out for him in life, but in death, when he is nearly pulled down and consumed once again, he says "wings unfold around me and, with a mighty sweep of air, I alone am lifted skyward, from where I first arrived." The book DOES end on a positive note. This is one death we should not be sad about, for in death Anwell/Gabriel is freed.

Anonymous said...

I think that Hartnett is also writing about the nature of good and evil and how each affects the other. And I guess when there is a bit of evil thrown in (and there always is), then life is never going to be 100% a-ok. But poor Anwell. I am reduced to tears just thinking about his character. It makes me think of that saying (and it's interesting that Harnett has a dog who features dominantly in this novel) - in our world you need a license to have a dog, but any old mongrel can give birth to a child. Depressing but true! And I think that even though this novel is quite dark, the character of Sarah offers a glimmer of respite and hope. Anwell just could of done with some love 20 years earlier.

awesome said...

i have this book
its pretty good
but i dont really get who is who, is finnigan and gabriel the same, or vernon and finnigan
and sarah says sarah isn't her name but it is
confusing stuff, though i am too young to be reading it (says 14+)i was 11 when i first read it, though i dont find it depressing, more like diturbed

Rosaltos said...

I'm fresh off the book from like a few minutes ago and to me this book was certainly a depressing read, one that I'll want to read again someday as well. I admit I sort of struggled with the book at first (like for the first 50 pages I was on and off) and it felt a little slow for me there, but since I'm a persistent reader I trudged on until I was so addicted to the book that I finished the second half today!!!

The things I found interesting about the book were the Isolation of not just Gabe, but his whole family from the small country town, The way the story felt broken into peaces yet perfectly in order and how (to me) the present always felt like a flash-back (but faded to the opposite direction towards the end), all the connections that brought the past and present together, and most of all Finnigan because of his animal and stealth like behavior. All these things and more kept me through this book and with every page I turned I just couldn't help myself from wanting more and more.

But the one thing I remember about the book was how Finnigan and Evangeline both said once that they only live for the future and they also both said they were "free", yet Gabriel always seemed to be haunted by his past...I could be wrong but it seems to convey a message in there.


SPOILERS!SPOILERS!SPOILERS!SPOILERS

Now I know that some of you are bringing SPOILERS!!! to the table so I thought I'd bring a few of my own SPOILERS!!! to add to the SPOILERS!!! list (please note that these are just my own assumptions on what is what)...SPOILERS!!!:
(1): Finnigan=Vernon, remember when finn "wrote" his name on the wall of the house? He spelled out "Vernon" written backwards and said it was his name.
(2): Anwell=Gabriel from the pact during his childhood.
(3): The "Sarah" (and this is just my guess but I'm pretty sure it's true) was probably just the nurse that visited Gabe every now and then that he named her.
(4): The reason Finn would die if Gabe died is because Finn isn't real, he's just Gabe's "imaginary friend" that he created one day.
(5): Gabe killed his parents, that's a fact (the "bones" that were mentioned throughout the story were the ones Gabe Buried when he drove to the woods in his fathers' car after he killed them).

The questions I have are these: Since Finn was just Imaginary (or if he wasn't real at least), were the fires that Finn had started real? Or were they Gabe's doing? Or was the whole event just some crazy coincidence?

also, sorry for the long comment lol, I sort-of got a little carried away :)

Mutia said...

The story was beautifully written but it has quite a lot description to digest. It was pretty depressing, reading this for school (the whole class had to).

(spoilers) To Rosaltos:
(1): Finnigan is gabe's imaginary friend who's personality is trying to take over Anwell's body (split personality)Anwell made him when he was thinking of Vernon...
(2): ...
(3): yup that's true, Sarah is actually the name of his aunt but he names the nurse that cause he's lonely
(4): They share the same body so if one died (shut down the body), the other dies too
(5): the most depressing and gruesome part
(6) It was probably Anwell's body's doing in Finnigan's control

Anonymous said...

Surrender has been my favourite books for some time now, and although the comments have been related mostly to the themes and such, I would like to draw attention to the writing itself.

I was under the impression that it was beautifully written. However, I recently read a review of another of Hartnett's books where he writing took some pretty harsh criticism - using words to mean things they don't, imagery distracting from the story, poor use of metaphors - and I was taken aback. Here's the link if you want to check it out. http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/butterfly-by-sonya-hartnett/

The writer of that post claimed to be familiar with Hartnett's works and while she does often write melodramatic stories for young adults, I found Surrender to be moving. The dramatic and extreme nature of the story gives it it's beauty. Would anyone prefer that the plot of Surrender be more realistic?

Does anyone have anything to say about the writing? I know that I sometimes got distracted by imagery as well but after the second time reading this book everything became perfectly clear and seemed to just make Surrender that much more of a literary masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

I think when I first picked up this book I thought the concept was great but the writing mainly attracted me to this book. I love the way the author strings the words together to make a sentence. And how the sentences create paragraphs that leaves such an impact on you. I think the writing is phenomenal.
I don't quite understand the ending of the story. Its so confusing because of the fact that one can come up with several conclusions based on the loose facts stated in the book. But to me this doesn't discredit the writing.I guess I just have to read the story again to clear my head ( 3rd time reading it).
~Tiffany

Anonymous said...

Basic clarifications: Anwell and Gabriel are basically the same person. Vernon was Anwell's mentally impaired brother, who Anwell took care of. When Vernon was ten, with the mental capacity of an infant, and Anwell was seven, he locked Vernon in a freezer to calm him down and ended up killing him by leaving him there too long. Surrender was Anwell's dog - there is too much symbolism concerning Surrender to explain, to anyone who hasn't read and understood the novel.

Sarah, Anwell's aunt, was never in the novel. He saw a picture of her when he was younger and saw her somewhat reverently thereafter for the gifts she used to send him.
The Sarah that is mentioned is his nurse, his keeper, the woman that helps to take care of the twenty-year-old Anwell. She calls him Gabriel because he wants to be called Gabriel, and he calls her Sarah because he wants to connect her with his aunt Sarah.


Finnigan never was. Somewhere in Anwell's bruised psych, he created Finnigan to excuse himself for all the evil - he believed that if he created someone else to do everything bad that needed to be done, he would not be at fault.

There were not two different people. There was no Finnigan 'controlling' Anwell's body; it was Anwell the entire time. The reason he didn't recall it was because of his mental condition. You can call it anything you want, but whether it was something coincidental, genetic, or from the environment he grew up in, there became something mentally wrong with him. There was some connection in Anwell's mind between Finnigan and Vernon, on a most basic level.

Yes, he did kill his parents. Yes, it was him, and yes, it was at least partially because of that. It wasn't Finnigan, because it was clearly described in Anwell's point of view - something simply broke through the wall between Finnigan and Anwell, and that's probably why Finnigan 'left' him for so long.

I understand why so many people don't get the ending. Unfortunately, for those that don't, there is no way to explain it better then it was said in the book.
The book has more rays of light then I know most people can see.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this book, i agree it was depressing, but not depressing in the sense i felt sorry for him, but depressing about the life he was forced to live. i had an inkling while reading it that anwell wasn't quite right, but i never expected just how messed up he actually was! i was really surprised by how gruesome and twisted it was in the end, i was literally reading with my mouth open! i needed to spend a bit of time reflecting and thinking about it to figure out what i read and what it meant, and to sort out the confusion. this was a really good book, but not one i can put myself through again, it was just to...twisted.