by Ward Just

Paperback, 2007





Mariner Books (2007), Edition: Reprint, 272 pages


Thomas Railles, an American expatriate and former "odd-jobber" for the CIA, is a successful painter living with his beloved wife, Florette, in a small village in the Pyrenees. On an ordinary autumn day, Florette goes for a walk in the hills and is killed by unknown assailants. Was her death simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was it somehow connected to Thomas's work with the CIA? When French officials detain four Moroccan terrorists and charge them with Florette's murder, Thomas is invited by his boyhood friend (and former agency handler) Bernhard to witness the interrogation. Thomas's search for answers in this shadow world will lead him to a confrontation that will change him forever.

Media reviews

The author gives not only her interior monologue but some of the thoughts of the men as well—“None of this—the weather, their slow progress—was to their advantage. The rescue of the . . . woman was an error and they would pay for it.” While Florette speculates, dozes, and dreamily
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entertains memories, the reality of her worsening situation bears down upon the reader. Her mind keeps touching on the fact that she needs to pee, and when, as she euphorically pictures her rescue by Thomas and the villagers, her bladder lets go—“She peed and peed some more, such a strange sensation lying on her back but so welcome”—the release signals an end. It is a terrific scene, and Just’s novel throughout, as it wanders and even maunders, has the electric potential of being terrific, with the kind of terrific that sneaks up out of the mundane.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member piefuchs
Quick and engaging read. Forgetfulness tells the story of an ex pat painter, living a relative quiet life in his wife's hometown in the Pyrenees. One day, in a short walk on the hill side, his wife is murdered. That day, he stayed at home, spending time with his high school friends, who happen to
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be in American Army Intelligence. Thus, obviously, begins a plot of a thriller - and indeed this is what the back of the book claims. Somehow, however, Forgetfulness is really about grief, love, secrets, Franco American relations, and moving on in life. The characters are wonderful developed, at times the writing is beautiful, and the story moving.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
Thomas Railles is a well known American painter living in the Pyrenees mountains with his French wife in the time shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. The story begins with an account of his wife, Florette's death, which occurs after she has been walking in the mountains and has broken her ankle. She has
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apparently died from a combination of exposure and a slit throat at the hands of unsavory characters thought to be drug smugglers or terrorists.

Ironically, Florette was out walking because Thomas was entertaining two life long friends from Wisconsin now employed by American intelligence. In the past Thomas has done occasional work for them, a fact which causes him much discomfort.

The rest of the novel deals with Thomas' reactions to his wife's death, and the capture of her murderer's through the efforts of Bernhardt (one of the childhood friends). The character of Bernhardt provides a chilling glimpse of the lack of soul in the the new privatized security services which have emerged since 9/11/2001.

As Thomas stoically mourns the loss of Florette, his reflections lead the reader through major catastrophe's of the 20th century and their aftermath. He reflects on the recent death and curious life of a long time friend and neighbor who lived as a refugee recluse British soldier from World War I who survived the war because he abandoned his post in battle shock. And there are reflections on the reaction and aftermath of the assassination of J.F.K.

The murderer's are apprehended and held for questioning under duress, and Thomas is invited to witness a portion of the interrogation. This is an extremely well written scene which holds a dramatic tension between Thomas' goodness and the evil of these four conscienceless men.

In the creation of this story, the author leads us through an exploration of private and public catastrophe's and their aftermath. Ward Just doesn't lead us to answers, but through this quiet analytical story, he leaves the reader with many nuanced and ponderous questions.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
I have known of Ward Just and his writing for decades, but Forgetfulness is my first experience of reading Just's work, which goes all the way back to 1970. It was a great place to start, because this is an absolutely beautiful book. The jacket copy speaks of it as being about the "shadow world" of
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espionage and international intrigue, but Forgetfulness goes so far beyond that in its language and artistry. Early on in the narrative, protagonist Thomas Railles, a former CIA "odd-jobber," says something that perhaps characterizes a deeper theme of this exquisite novel -

"Facts anchor the work, whatever it is you're composing, a picture or a piece of music or a novel or a poem. But memory has to anchor the facts, alas. And so I fall short ..."

Ward Just, who I have been told lives part of the time in France, where most of this novel takes place, never falls short, whether in facts or memory. On the same page, shortly thereafter, Thomas calls forgetfulness "the old man's friend." And as the story gracefully unfolds, one begins slowly to understand why he might feel that way, because this is a story not so much about CIA operatives or part-time odd-jobbers or murder and methods of torture and inquistion as it is a probing look at loss, sadness and regret. Thomas Railles is a painter, and a good one, recognized and respected in the international art world, and, if all of the details given here of sketching and painting are any indication, I would not be surprised to learn that Just too is a painter, and one who knows that the line between various artistic endeavors is often a very thin or blurred one.

"To some degree," Just writes of his portraitist protagonist, "all portraits were self-portraits, as all novels were to some degree autobiographical ... A visage was sometimes true or false at the same time, the natural affect of a hundred brushstrokes or a dozen rewrites. Autobiography resided in the style of compostition and from that the viewer could conclude whatever he wished or nothing at all."

Whatever he is, War Just is not, at least in his art, forgetful. This guy knows what he's doing and can create powerful scenes that look easy, like the one in which Railles, still grieving the loss of his wife, murdered in a chance encounter with terrorists, is caught in a sudden storm and turns to face the elements, raising "his walking stick, brandishing it like a medieval warrior in combat with a dragon or other supernatural phenomenon." Shades of Shakespeare's King Lear!

Forgetfulness is a book which shows a writer at the peak of his creative powers. Ward Just could perhaps be called, at least chronologically, that "old man" he describes herein, but "forgetfulness" has not yet become a serious problem. This is a wonderful story, and I will recommend it highly. And I'll also be reading more of Ward Just soon!
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LibraryThing member rynk
We tell our leaders to keep us secure, but in our personal lives we resist playing it safe. It's a contradiction made for a Ward Just political thriller. Thomas is a painter in the south of France, putting some distance on his past as a CIA collaborator, Still, he's tight with his buddies in the
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spy game. When his wife dies among unsavory characters, Thomas is alone with his insecurities, and perhaps in deeper than he thought. Eventually face to face with her killer, Thomas knows just what to do in the interrogator's chair. It's a story told by indirection, a narrative full of known unknowns. The reader doesn't know which details are important, and neither do the spooks. The novel explores the nature of perception, memory, craft and terrorism, and the limits of the impulse to never forget.
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