Samantha Bruce-Benjamin The Art of Devotion

ISBN 13: 9781439153949

The Art of Devotion

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9781439153949: The Art of Devotion
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In the tradition of bestselling authors Ian McEwan and Anne Enright, Samantha Bruce-Benjamin’s brilliant and timeless debut unveils the dark side of human nature as four women share the poignant tale of love, obsession, and ultimate betrayal that binds them forever.
Have we all not wished to keep forever the one person we love the most?
The secluded beaches of a sun-drenched Mediterranean island are the perfect playground for young Sebastian and Adora. Emotionally adrift from their mother, Adora shelters her sensitive older brother from the cruelties of the world. Sophie does not question her children’s intense need for one another until it’s too late. Her beloved son’s affections belong to Adora, and when he drowns in the sea, she has no one else to blame. 
Still heartbroken years later, Adora fills her emptiness with Genevieve, the precocious young daughter of her husband’s business associate and his jealous wife, Miranda. Thrilled to be invited into the beautiful and enigmatic Adora’s world, the child idolizes her during their summers together. Yet, as the years progress, Genevieve begins to suspect their charmed existence is nothing more than a carefully crafted illusion. Soon, she too is ensnared in a web of lies.
Stunningly told in the tragic voices of four women whose lives are fatefully entangled, The Art of Devotion is evocative and haunting, a story of deceit, jealousy, and the heartbreaking reality of love’s true power. 

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About the Author:

Samantha Bruce-Benjamin is the author of The Art of Devotion, an Examiner and Bookreporter Best Book of 2010, and The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, she holds a Master of Arts with Honors in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. A former Random House and BBC literary editor, she divides her time between Edinburgh and New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Sophie

An island in the Mediterranean Sea, 1940

For each of us, there is a moment: what we see at the last, before God closes our eyes forever; an entire existence distilled to one perfect memory. We anticipate its promise all our lives.

Some are entirely unprepared for the joy that dances through their souls and wince with regret at everything they missed during those final seconds. Others peacefully acknowledge something they long suspected but never truly realized, content to venture into the night enlightened. And then there are those, like me, who know exactly what they will see, who welcome the end for the privilege it will contain. Yes, for each of us, there is a moment. This is mine:

They are there in front of me on the beach. A tiny boy and a tiny girl bronzed from the sun, their hair white-blond. At the edge of the shore they stand, holding hands. They are singing a rhyme I have taught them in French: Odeur du temps brin de bruyére/Et souviens-toi que je t’attends. Fragrance of time sprig of heather/Remember I wait for you forever. They sing the song every time a wave approaches, attempting to jump over it before it breaks against the sand. My daughter invented the game, and my son, as ever, is content to play with her. Not simply content, ecstatic. They are childhood personified, childhood as it should be. They are the innocents of the world. They are laughing. They turn to each other and squeal with excitement every time they jump. Their curls fly up in the air as they ascend and fall over their eyes when they land. Odeur du temps brin de bruyére/Et souviens-toi que je t’attends. Fragrance of time sprig of heather/Remember I wait for you forever.

I call to them from the balcony of the Hôtel des Anges that it is time to go home for their nap. She looks at me over her shoulder, a familiar look of mischief in her eyes, and tightens her grip on my son’s hand. He would have come to me. She will not let him. And what is the harm? Why not let them play until they are so exhausted they can barely stay awake? They are only children. This is, after all, their time. Up and down they go, completely oblivious to me or any of the other assembled guests on the veranda, entranced by their game.

Sebastian is six, older by two years, but still he waits for Adora to jump before he follows. I can see his little legs shaking while he waits for her cue, afraid that he might ruin the game by leaping too soon, remaining throughout a beat behind her. His face floods with relief as he lands, but he does not look to me for praise or encouragement to try again, only to her. The sun moves down in the west of the sky as the game continues. It will stop only when she decrees it so.

I sit there, my hand resting on my parasol, basking in the glow conferred by my children, so exquisite they eclipse all others. I feel the residual heat of the day slip away like a silk cover being pulled carefully and slowly from my body, the breeze kissing my cheeks as dusk approaches. I care little for the murmurs emanating from the more staid American tourists who have stopped on our island as part of their Grand Tour. It’s not quite proper, don’t you think? Really, their nanny should bring them in. Most of the visitors seated around me are as transfixed by my children as I am. Yet as much as I want to linger on, I reluctantly check my complacency when I realize that it is growing late and their father and I are dining with friends this evening. I call to them again to come in, knowing I should insist, but something stops me. Something in my daughter’s eyes, as she turns toward me, framed by the dusk beyond, stops me.

It is thirty-five years since I watched them play on our island in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet it doesn’t seem possible that I am no longer that enviable woman sitting on the balcony of the most exclusive hotel in Europe in 1905, unquestioning of who I was, my morality, my judgment. Life then had done nothing so cruel that I could not recover. I considered everything I had ever been given to be a right and not a privilege. Not for me to toss in my bed at night asking myself, What have I done? That would come later.

The memory of that afternoon is my sanctuary now. It is all I have left. I watch my children play in front of me as if the illusion were real, as if I could reach out and touch them, as if I could change everything; as if I am still their mother.

For the rest of my son’s brief life, my daughter’s lead was the only one he would follow. Hers was the understanding heart he sought, her soul a soothing refuge for his pain. If he wandered, he returned to her. When he was lost, she found him. Since time immemorial there was no precedent for the love they owned. Few could possibly mine the unspoken depths of their affection or the secrets they shared. They were born for one another.

Neither knew how to live without the other. Neither did.

© 2010 Samantha Bruce-Benjamin

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