by Genevieve Scott
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Pub Date 25 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 19 Dec 2023
Oldcastle Books, VERVE Books
**NB UNPROOFED MANUSCRIPT**
What I remember best about that week in January is trying to keep track of all the lies I told...
1997. Ontario has been hit by a days-long, life-endangering ice storm, and on Regis University campus, with classes cancelled, the students are partying. In the midst of it all, eighteen-year-old Ros's roommate Megan goes missing. As a panicked search ensues, Ros is blamed for not keeping a closer eye on Megan, and the incident casts a shadow over the next two decades of her life.
2020. Ros's former partner, Lukas, the father of her eleven-year-old son, is accused of a sexual assault. The accusation brings new details of an old story to light, forcing Ros to revisit a dark moment from her past. Ros must take a hard look not only at the father of her child, but also at her own mistakes, her own trauma, and at the supposedly liberal period she grew up in.
'A thriller with a narrator you won't be able to get out of your head' - Toronto Star
'A thought-provoking examination of truth, trauma, and memory, briskly and attentively presenting readers with a vivid portrait of one woman's complicated experiences. A compelling character study that tackles intriguing moral questions' - Kirkus Reviews
'This is one of the first novels I've read that does a brilliant job of unpacking the duplicity and dishonesty of the 1990s. An intelligent and intense read about how power structures are passed on - The Damages held me, riveted, in a tight, icy grip' - Claire Cameron, author of The Bear and The Last Neanderthal
'The Damages is a probing, courageous work – a dance along the tightropes of memory, justice and love. It explodes the myth of the innocent bystander and ultimately celebrates the lifelong moral challenge of learning who you really are' - Sarah Henstra, author of The Red Word, winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction
'Genevieve Scott is a sophisticated writer, and The Damages is a sharp, multi-layered story about truth, lies, history and memory. I stayed up late to finish it! I was not disappointed: this is a complex and satisfying novel' - Sarah Selecky, author of Radiant Shimmering Light
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 7 members
The Damages reminded me of many novels I've read recently about American or Canadian women returning to their school or college pasts to figure out why things are the way they are in their lives right now, and whether justice was done back then: Rebecca Makkai's I Have Some Questions For You, Jessica Knoll's Promising Young Women, Jenny Hollander's Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead. But Genevieve Scott makes a very brave choice: her book is about somebody who really is completely unremarkable. I've long thought that the general moral standard of fictional protagonists is too high, probably in the pursuit of 'likeability'; most people, in real life, don't behave as well as made-up people do, and this especially wouldn't be the case if we had access to the insides of their heads. Ros, the protagonist of The Damages, is pretty shallow and self-centred, but she is realistic. At nineteen, she does wrong but is punished for it beyond anything she deserves. In her early forties, she tries to do right but probably doesn't actually help anyone at all, including herself. There's no big redemption arc for Ros, only the acknowledgement that being told you're a bad person in your teens really can get in the way of you becoming a better person, and I loved it.
I also loved the first 40% or so of The Damages, which is set during an ice storm at a small university east of Toronto, modelled on Queens. I was a kid in the 90s, but I felt that Scott perfectly captured why it was so horrendous to be a teenager in the 90s and the 00s; how you weren't allowed to care about anything, how coolness was all, how any hint of being different was aggressively punished. Ros is absolutely a part of this culture, but she also suffers because of it. Scott also properly evokes the atmosphere of the ice-bound campus and the rising tension when a girl goes missing. The next 60% of the book, which flashes forward to the Covid-19 pandemic, is less gripping (it could have been shorter) but largely necessary. I've read plenty of #MeToo novels, but Scott really picks apart how we handle changing social mores, and how unacknowledged wrongs are still important. It also made me reflect on, despite how times have changed, Ros still doesn't have the language for what was done to her. Other characters rightly call out racism and sexual assault on campus, but Ros's systematic social shunning, which led her to drop out of university, is difficult to voice. A reminder that you don't have to like a character to feel their pain. Another hit from Verve Books (the UK publisher for this Canadian novel), who are fast becoming one of my favourite indies.
One of those then and now books - then, the main character is trying to fit in at university, making some duff choices but then most people try on a few personalities at university, and they generally aren't ones that we stick with for life. Unfortunately her flat mate disappears for a period of time and this leads to the main character being effectively cancelled by the university community.
Now, she is partnered to one of the students and they have a child together. Turns out he is not the super catch she thought he was at 18.
I found the first part of the book set in the university to be enjoyable, the characters are not particularly likeable, but how many self obsessed 18 year olds make for good company? The second half was interesting, forcing the reader to examine the dynamics of the relationship - how much of it was engineered by the male? Maybe I read the last part too quickly but I am slightly baffled as to what happened, or maybe it is realistic and not much happened, they all just kept bumbling along.
The Damages by Canadian author Genevieve Scott is a superbly written and very affecting book.
The book begins in 1997 at Regis University in Ontario where Freshman Ros is desperate to ingratiate herself with the "in crowd". Roommate Megan is a bit of a nerd happy to drift along and not interested in the drinking and dating scene that most of her peers enjoy. While the girls are different they get on and live together harmoniously.
When an ice storm hits classes are cancelled and students are told to pair up and look after each other for safety. Ros fails Megan at a time of need and with her lies compounding the result both girl's lives are thrown into turmoil.
In 2020 Ros's former partner Lokas, part of that "in crowd" from Regis and the father of her young son, is accused of a sexual assault leaving Ros to have to come to terms with events at Regis, and not least her bad behaviour, of over 2 decades ago.
This is an excellent piece of writing with author Scott getting under the skin of her characters, 18 year-old Ros isn't a bad person ,she's not always a very nice one either ,Megan is a somewhat naive young woman who bumps along quite happily until she's badly let down. There are key scenes where a few words say so much and are more powerful for that.
An exceptional book.