Testimony by Anita Shreve

I first came across Anita Shreve’s books in the bookshop at Gatwick Airport, where I bought Fortune’s Rocks to read on holiday. I didn’t have long to choose a book and I was drawn to it by the title and the cover. I wasn’t disappointed and I’ve read all her books since then. Needless to say some of them are not quite as captivating as Fortune’s Rocks, and Testimony is one. Indeed, as I began to read the opening scenes describing the sex scandal at a boarding school in New England I wondered if this was by Anita Shreve and if this had been the first of hers I’d looked at I’d probably have not read it. However, as I read on I was drawn more and more into the story. The events are revealed through many different characters’ perspectives and I soon began to feel sympathy for some of the characters and annoyed by others and wanting to know more.

A video tape of the incident sets in motion a train of events that leads to tragedy. The headmaster, Mike is the main narrator. He views the video with mounting horror and dismay and his attempts to keep the scandal contained only make matters worse as the police and the press become involved. The futures of the three boys who are the school’s basketball stars and the girl who is only fourteen are irrevocably changed, but inevitably this also affects not only their parents and families, but also the reputation of the school, the other pupils and the local community.

 The way that Anita Shreve makes each person memorable and intriguing surprised me. With so many characters adding their thoughts and insights to the events it could have been just a jumbled mass, but I found each “voice” distinctive. The unfolding of the motives and sequence of events helps explain what actually happened and why. But I was still left at the end of the book feeling somewhat disgruntled by the whole thing. Somehow it seemed a bit contrived with everything leading to a miserable ending. The only person who came out of it well was the deputy headmaster who ended up taking over Mike’s job as headmaster. The girl, who remained anonymous throughout under the pseudonym Sienna, was an unlikeable character who seemed to be the one person who emerged unscathed despite her protests of innocence.

Thinking back over the last few books by Anita Shreve, Body Surfing and A Wedding in December are also ones that I didn’t think lived up to her earlier books, such as Fortune’s Rocks, Eden’s Close, The Pilot’s Wife and The Last Time They Met.