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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Zoran Drvenkar

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To purchase Sorry

Title: Sorry
Author: Zoran Drvenkar
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 300 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Sorry - US
Sorry - UK
Sorry - Canada
Sorry - India
Sorry - France
Sorry - Deutschland
Sorry - Italia
Sorry - España
  • German title: Sorry
  • Translated by Shaun Whiteside

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Our Assessment:

C : ultimately exasperating -- and without an adequate pay-off

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 16/3/2012 Laura Wilson
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/9/2011 Olen Steinhauer
TLS . 18/5/2012 Roz Kaveney
The Washington Post D 18/9/2011 Patrick Anderson

  From the Reviews:
  • "If you can get past the slow start and the hefty suspension of disbelief required by the -- admittedly intriguing -- premise, Sorry speeds up nicely to become a cleverly plotted, switchback read, provided you can stomach gimmicky irritants such as the character introduced at the beginning as "You" and the occasional intrusion of a bossily omniscient narrator." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Your mistake will be thinking that this reader-as-participant postmodernist nonsense has no place in a hair-raising thriller. You’re wrong, of course. You often are. Simply accept that, and we’ll get through the rest of this review painlessly. (...) One of the many strengths of Sorry is the way Drvenkar slips his readers information piecemeal and, unlike many contemporary thriller writers, never lets us feel cheated by his omissions. He does it just enough to keep us guessing until the end." - Olen Steinhauer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Dvenkar is good at social networks -- we believe in his characters and how they relate to one another." - Roz Kaveney, Times Literary Supplement

  • "My objection to the book is that, as Drvenkar tells his story, it’s not just difficult but impossible for the reader to figure out what’s going on. Difficult is okay, impossible is not. Too many games are played with identifications and the time element. (...) Aside from this inscrutable plot, there’s gore galore in the book, as murders pile up, but happily there’s also some vivid writing. (...) (I)t must also be said that, had I not agreed to review Sorry, I would have tossed it aside in frustration about 200 pages before the end." - Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Sorry certainly begins gruesomely: five pages in: "The nail easily penetrates the palms of her hands, placed one over the other", and half a page later another nail ("bigger, sixteen inches long") is used to do something even worse. Enough to start readers off with a good shudder, at the very least.
       Sorry also begins in the second person -- the person pounding those nails in is you -- and while the reader might not feel entirely complicit (or part of the fun), there's no denying that makes for a bit more intimacy. (Note, however, that the rest of Sorry is narrated in a number of voices -- first and third person, too, as well as this recurring directly addressed one, as it shifts, and shifts, and shifts .....)
       Sorry also quickly sets up a promising premise: four friends in their late twenties -- brothers Kris and Wolf, and Frauke and Tamara -- find life hasn't turned out quite as they expected when they finished school:

     They thought the whole world was at their feet. First university, then masses of cash. They particularly agreed on the last point
       Instead, a few years later, they're just muddling through. Until, that is, they have an inspired idea: to go into the apology business. They set up a business called 'Sorry' -- meaning they place a simple ad in a few newspapers -- and before they know what hit them, they're a success.
       As Drvenkar writes:
     Without understanding how it's possible, they're in business.
       Unfortunately, that's close to all Drvenkar writes by way of explanation: an example or two are pretty much all he offers of how exactly they conduct a business -- making apologies on behalf of someone else (much of which sounds like reaching financial settlements with people one has wronged without admitting guilt or assuming legal liability -- something that, at least in the US, corporate lawyers do day in and day out). But their success -- and they are enormously successful -- seems predicated entirely on their mystique -- and, for example:
     "Of course people can imitate our idea," he says, "but our concept will remain a mystery to them."
     And if he were to ask them what their concept was, all four of them would have to act mysterious, because the truth is that they have no idea of concepts.
       Drvenkar almost gets away with such laziness by simply using (and largely wasting) the premise as a springboard: rather than demonstrate what actually goes into running this business (and generating enough cash to buy and renovate a nice lakeside villa ...) he quickly sets the client from hell on them. Yeah, the person with the nails. Which leads them to ignore all their other clients and the business -- except for this client's demands.
       The first of these is that they apologize, on his behalf, to his murder victim. Then: to dispose of the body. As one of them sums it up: "we're just completely normal people who've crossed paths with a lunatic." But they also do the lunatic's bidding -- because he (apparently convincingly) threatened their loved ones.
       So while there's some talk of calling in the police (like any sensible person would do) they, for the most part, try to handle things on their own. Need one add: it doesn't go well ? True, they're not all on the same page here -- which, naturally, leads to more confusion, as they take some independent actions that complicate matters even more -- but they do try figure all this out more or less by themselves.
       One thing readers learn along the way is the backstory to some of the lunacy, which involves gruesome child abuse which, even if not very graphic, is deeply disturbing. (Like practically everything in the novel, however, the circumstances ... strain credulity.) That has, understandably, led to some complicated feelings of guilt -- but 'Sorry' probably isn't the right kind of agency to deal with these ..... They certainly don't have the right apologies to offer.
       Drvenkar has some fun with the hubris on display here: the very idea -- as if apologies and forgiveness could actually be handled this way ! And, of course, there's also the point that:
Don't you get the irony behind this ? You have an agency that apologizes, but there's lots that you can't forgive yourselves.
       Sorry zips -- and jerks, with its switches in narrative voice -- along. It's an (ugly-)action-packed thriller with a lot of pace, heaping bad on top of worse, and maintaining some suspense -- a lot of which, however, rests largely simply on the confusion Drvenkar serves up to his readers, cutting back and forth in time, perspective, and voice so fast it's nearly impossible to keep track (which must have been his intention). Ultimately a lot of this is simply smoke and mirrors -- it's this jerking around, and these different voices, you and I (and, of course, they) that keeps the reader guessing and curious. But half the action is utterly implausible (which, if one slows down just a bit and considers what's just been presented, is fairly obvious). And regardless of the content, the narrative approach alone (quickly) gets to be annoying, too.
       All (or at least much) could be forgiven if there were a final payoff, a big reveal, or at least a juicy, satisfying conclusion. Sure, the pieces do fit together -- but it's not a very impressive picture that finally emerges. This is only passable as a thriller because Drvenkar generates so much confusion: once the smoke clears there's not that much there. Yes, very, very bad things happened -- but these characters, and how they react to it, just aren't that compelling beyond the moment.
       There are some vividly imagined scenes (though implausibility hangs darkly over most of them), but ultimately this proves to be a very enervating thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 December 2011

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Sorry: Reviews: Zoran Drvenkar: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Croatian-born German writer Zoran Drvenkar was born in 1967.

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