Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma

After reading recent comments, I feel the need to stress an important point about this book: it is not about accepting incest. It's not a book like Flowers in the Attic or How I Live Now where incest is romanticised. It is a sad story about the danger of dysfunctional families and should never be regarded as another angsty tale of forbidden love, even though the title suggests otherwise.

So, first let me say that this was a very brave book to tackle such a controversial subject matter and the author must have some real bottle to take it on. I know quite a few people who would read the synopsis and put it straight back down, shaking their heads at the thought of another "Flowers In The Attic" scenario. But this book is far from that. "Flowers In The Attic" was about two teenagers who had grown up isolated from members of the opposite sex, all they had during puberty was each other and their sexual relationship was based on desires that are natural but they had been prevented from feeling them in a natural environment. But "Forbidden" tells the tale of two teenagers, Lochan (17 - later 18) and Maya (16), who both go to school with other people their own age, including plenty from the opposite sex but they have been forced to live quite unlike their other schoolmates when at home. Neglected at an early age by their mother after the sudden departure of their father, Lochan and Maya begin to play the roles of parents to their three younger siblings who they refer to as "the children". This ensues a relationship in which they support each other and share parenting roles like a couple would and not at all like a brother and sister. They are prompted to feel that they are related by some biological accident.

Characters:

Lochan is an excellently constructed character, when he is narrating the story you feel his pain every second of the way. You almost feel his nerves when he struggles to speak to people and, most of all, you really care about him. He's a troubled guy and that becomes apparent from the very first page when he is sat in class; he has many sides, all of them passionate. And then there's Maya. Maybe it's the strength of Lochan's character that does it, but I just don't feel any real connection with Maya and I don't feel like the author did either. For a female author she writes her male characters far better than the females, a fact also true of her other books. Maya is bland and, instead of feeling her pain and pitying her like you do with Lochan, she seems whiny and irritating. Also, incredibly naive. Now, I know there are plenty of pretty girls who are virgins at 16 and much older; I also know that there are pretty girls that haven't been kissed at 16, but I don't know of any quite so innocent... I mean, she goes to high school for godsakes. Lochan's blushing at sexual hints is forgiven because of his character that has been built up around his timidity, but Maya is supposed to be outgoing and full of life to balance him out. But it's hard to believe she knew what a penis was before this with Lochan. Ok, so you get that Maya didn't do it for me. But Kit did, surprisingly. I was expecting a throwaway character in the form of a bratty teenager, and yes, we got the bratty teenage stuff but Kit was a lot more than that. I loved the other side to him, he wanted to rebel and he didn't like that his older brother got to boss him around but he also understood the importance of them staying together and he wanted to keep them away from the eyes of social services. I felt really sorry for him when he's chasing the police car near the end, even though it was partly his fault, but I did like what it signified about the relationship between him and Lochan. His other siblings were just tools to move the plot along, Tiffin is only memorable because of his unfortunate name. Willa, though seemingly a sweetheart, was only their to reinforce the idea that Maya and Lochan were like parental figures, not siblings.

Ending:

If my review was of the ending alone then the book would have got 5 stars without a doubt. It was shocking, beautiful and tragic. That one scene after Lochan has been arrested, stayed with me afterwards and I was crying for ages. I got to a couple of chapters before the end and I thought "well, yeah, it is a good book", but the ending propelled it into awesomeness. Even if the story had been poor, it would have been worth reading just to get to that ending. I loved the simplicity of the final chapter - it could have been dragged out but it wasn't and that made it all the more effective. The final scene is told so well, you can see it clearly in your mind, imagine exactly how it would have looked. I cannot fault the ending at all.

The Incest Issue:

I understand what this book was trying to achieve and the question it was putting to the reader about different types of love. I feel the need to compare it to "Lolita" by Nabokov and the way in which Humbert is almost forgiven his perversity at the end and the reader is with him, inside his pain and wishing that Lolita would be with him. Paedophilia is viewed as one of the most disgusting acts possible, and yet Nabokov manages to get the reader to forgive Humbert, feel sorry for him, almost excuse him. Suzuma with "Forbidden" wants you to question the taboo that is incest. She is not saying "incest is okay", that's not the point. Like the many 'coming out' novels, Suzuma wants you to recognise a different type of love from the norm. Assuming they didn't have children because of the genetic issue and both were consenting... why legally prevent two people from loving each other just because they came out of the same woman? Can you answer it? Without the bible and comments like "it's just wrong" - do you have an answer? I don't. I think it's weird and creepy and makes me feel slightly sick but I can't put my finger on why the law forbids it (note: this does not include having children, because there are obvious reasons why this would be wrong). That said, for me Tabitha Suzuma didn't quite manage it the way Nabokov did. But I must stress how much I enjoyed this novel and how much it really made me think.