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.


23 Responses

  1. 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!

  2. 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!!

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

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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 😦

  8. 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. 🙂

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

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

    You know, the neverending one because of you guys.


  11. 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…

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. GL5HOg Please write anything else!

  17. 6cMei6 Good job!

  18. Good job!

  19. Wonderful blog.

  20. 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…

  21. 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?

  22. Finnigan is in Anwell’s imagination. I’m not entirely sure but I think Anwell is schitzophrenic, that would explain Finnigan taking account for the bad things Anwell did. eg the coin incident, and the fact that no one knows about him and he has no home. I think Anwell did kill his parents, and it was his way of showing himself he would take account of his evil actions rather than succumbing to his parents and Finnigans controlling nature.

    I thought it was an amazing book.
    My favourite quote from the book was
    “Flowers and darker things unfurl in my mind…”
    The language is so beautiful, i think it denotes the depressing side.

    The cover of the version of mine is completely different, and i didn’t even think it would be too depressing. I think the cover changes people’s views too cause I didn’t think it was all that bad.

  23. MAJOR SPOILER: for those who do not want to know the end, don’t read this.

    I think Finnigan was a product of Anwell’s imagination: Finnigan was everything Anwell wished to be: wild and free. He was what he wanted: a friend and someone who could punish those who harmed him. He was his desire to be wanted, and also the fear and pain he wished to erased from his life. Besides, the way he lives, the things he does, and the way in which he’s described, makes him surreal altogether.

    Evidence of his unreal self is all throughout the book. But the best evidence yet lies at the end when Vernon appears and Anwell compares them. He says: they speak in the same smooth, cold way. Their stare is cold. They smell like clay and forest. We know that this Vernon is not the real one. Comparing him to Finnigan only makes Finnigan equally unreal.

    They could even be the same person because of how similar they are. Not to mention, Vernon writes his name on the window exactly like Finnigan scraped his on the fence. Or the fact that Anwell says that he always though that Vernon, if alive, would’ve desired to be like Finnigan. Even at the very end (last paragraph) Vernon becomes desperate to take Anwell with him, just like Finnigan wanted him for himself.

    FURTHER THOUGHTS: Perhaps Anwell himself caused the fires, impersonating Finnigan (like a double-personality disorder.) Perhaps that’s what got him sick: the constant inhaling of smoke and the late nights. And perhaps when he interacted with McIllwraith, it was also him impersonating Finnigan.

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