I don't feel like reading anything that isn't unusual by Earth standards, and as someone in a movie once said, I myself am. If you follow my walls of text, you know I tend to write about things most humans love to hate for no good reason. I will be doing that again today.
Forbidden is predominantly about incest. If that bothers you, well... actually, you should keep reading anyway to find out why you're wrong. It's a spectacular book, save for one thing - and I will be covering it with scattered spoilers. I should warn any potential reader - this book will knock the wind out of you, and crush you underneath the weight of its incredibly painful and beautiful pages.
The novel follows a group of five children living in the UK, who increasingly must fend for themselves in the absence of their eccentric, alcoholic mother. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Lochan, the eldest brother at 17, and the eldest sister, 16 year old Maya. Lochan and Maya end up juggling the enormous task of studying, doing homework, contemplating life after high school, paying bills without jobs, and ensuring the safety of their three younger siblings Kit, Tiffin and Willa, who they feed, clothe, bathe and take to school every day. They do this all without a reliable support system of any kind aside from simply having each other's company.
Early on their mother begins to all but disappear from their lives, usually popping in only to pass out on the floor or reluctantly hand over some money for food and bills before leaving again. With their mother often gone for weeks at a time, Lochan and Maya quickly become the unofficial heads of the household. They constantly fear being caught without proper guardians in the home and having a run-in with social services. This would obviously result in Kit, Tiff and Willa being taken away and placed into other care. Yet somehow, all of the right excuses are made, parent-teacher meetings attended, and permission slips signed - usually with a forged mother's signature. This is due in no small part to Lochan's undying dedication to his family, and determination to keep everyone who still remains, together. He is quiet, intelligent, and highly perfectionist. Though gentle at heart, he is plagued by fear and self-doubt (as perfectionists often are) and struggles to overcome these hurdles for most of the story as he insists upon carrying the entire family burden.
Lochan spends most of his energy worrying about the future - how to protect the children, ace every exam, and carve a path to university, where he may open the financial gates to better support his brothers and sisters. Maya is more focused on the present day. She is fun, loyal, and while capable of being strong-willed, is typically soft-spoken. Maya finds the good in every situation, and is often seen calming the nerves of her older brother or playing good cop for the children amidst his hard, sometimes temperamental exterior.
To be clear, both Lochan and Maya care very much for their younger siblings. However, they have only each other for support. Their father abandoned them even further back in life than their mother. Neither is showered in friends at school - least in particular Lochan, who is so inexplicably afraid of speaking to anyone that his refusal to orally present one of his brilliant essays is the only thing holding back his stellar grades.
As time gnaws on, their insurmountable workload takes its toll. Any instance where all three younger kids are out of the house makes for a brief but necessary moment of peace and quiet. In one such instance, Maya convinces Lochan to try a simple dance. What begins as a casual exercise in stress relief quickly becomes something much, much heavier. Lochan realizes for the first time as they gaze into each other's eyes that every last facet of his sister is beautiful and perfect. His suddenly very intimate urges toward her shatter him out of the moment and into a deep withdrawal.
After weeks of fearfully avoiding Maya, it is made clear to the reader through Maya's perspective that actually, both siblings realized the same thing that day. At first, neither Maya nor Lochan is aware of the other's feelings as they are busy looping between denying and hiding from their own. Before long, neither are capable of upholding the charade any longer. After a deliberate but failed attempt to just date someone from school and move on, Maya comes home unusually late to a worried, angry and hurt Lochan. Once they finish hammering out their various frustrations on each other, Maya kisses Lochan and they confess one after the other that they never really wanted anyone else to begin with. However, they are lost as for what to next - what to do ever.
Despite the bond created that night, in the following days Lochan's response to the whole situation is heavily influenced by society norms. He speaks disapprovingly and fearful against his own will, even though he shares his sister's feelings. Repeatedly, he makes things more difficult than necessary by lashing out in fear and anger until the more easy-going and practical Maya can bring him back down to Earth. She slowly eases him up, and they begin to agonize over the philosophical side of things together in bed at night after the children have gone to sleep. They often wonder what they've actually done wrong - they've not hurt anyone, and have painstakingly ensured at their own emotional expense that the children continue their lives without ever knowing. Each time Lochan is seized with worry, Maya calms him with an impeccable wisdom and patience for her age.
The two siblings are shown to have a strong mental connection with each other. This along with other implications suggests that Maya and Lochan are what humans tend to refer to as "soul mates" or "twin flames". This is supported somewhat by Maya's conclusion that she would never consider this kind of relationship with her other siblings - Lochan is simply special, and she feels no shame in loving him simply because of their being part of the same family.
Over time, they learn to explore and manage their longings amidst a growing list of responsibilities, many of which now threaten to expose their love if they aren't careful. But the closer they become, the more their family's bond expands. The family has more outings, plays more games together, and despite the multiple age differences they begin to function as one. Lochan slowly outgrows his doubt and fear, and even starts reading his essays to much applause. He and Maya begin talks of a future together after the kids are grown, and though a long ways off, they live in hope to one day take on a different name and love like any other couple - in peace.
As things improve to the best point they've ever been, tragedy strikes one day when the three younger kids are away. They're both caught in Maya's bed by their mom - who is infuriatingly only present at the worst imaginable moment - during the first time they decide to go all the way. What follows is a traumatic and heartbreaking sequence. Their mother runs outside, screaming to the police, while Lochan tells Maya that the only chance left to save her and the kids is to sacrifice himself by pretending this was all his idea from the beginning, and that he raped her. He implores Maya to go along with this story for the future of their family. The authorities soon arrest Lochan and interrogate him away into a mentally shocked and void state. Lochan, now assured of no way to ever be with Maya again, manages to hang himself in his temporary holding cell before the next round of questioning can begin. His last thoughts are of his four siblings, who he held in regard above all else in life.
In the epilogue, Maya attempts to carry on without her brother. She feels nothing for life now, and finds it nigh impossible. She tries to convince herself that maybe Lochan knew she could take care of Kit, Tiffin and Willa on her own. She nearly turns to suicide immediately, and though she briefly reconsiders the idea, it is evident she has not abandoned it.
While the book ends without revealing her fate, it is my belief Maya has no chance without Lochan. If the bond between their spirits truly was what it was hinted to be (it is a real, albeit rare phenomenon) then the chance of survival is very low. In our universe, such beings (especially twin flames) can become so deeply intertwined that losing the "other half" is typically a paralyzing loss. In this situation, death would in fact be the quickest and least painful way to reunite with the other twin.
In this fictional novel, it is established that even consensual incest is illegal within the UK, and so the age of consent - still 16 as in the real world - does not apply. In reality, this is not currently illegal in the UK nor was it at the time of writing. This feels very much like a power play by the writer - using fiction to force an unhappy ending. Further, there are several character deviations (mostly surrounding Kit) that make no sense given the exceptionally well-written progression throughout the rest of the story. The author seemed determined to break what they had made at any cost, just because. Lazy.
This is the only problem I have. Forbidden goes out of its way for four hundred pages to preach against society, and believes every word with conviction. It's seriously inspiring and progressive material, especially for this planet. And then, it collapses on itself via an irresponsible series of "plot twists" that seem more like satire.
To summarize, the life and relationship between Lochan and Maya is equal parts insightful, intoxicating and surprisingly real; it's a story full of bravery, risk, reward, and they go through phases just like any couple. It deals some serious damage to the taboo. But I would like to pick a bone with the author for writing such an asshole ending to what was an honest, beautiful and very human struggle. Fiction or not, a bad ending for pure sake is no ending at all.
Now, you might ask... why am I bitching about technicalities in a fiction novel? Well fuck, where do I even begin...
First and foremost, holy shit - this should not be labeled under "young adult fiction". It rips out your spine. It is gut wrenching, tragic and earthy. It's hard, harsh, and wonderful. This book is not for the faint of heart, and it fucking hurt to read.
It's not some fantasy fetish take either, which segues into my next reason - almost all books on this subject are a babbling mess right from the synopsis. The character simply must be mentally ill to have thoughts for their sibling! It's nearly impossible to break away from that stereotype. Apparently, no one knows how to write for this topic without exaggerating reality for convenience or inserting their agenda to suppress free thought. That's embarrassing.
Third - if by happenstance a young adult reads this fiction, seeking validation for their feelings in an unforgiving world, the ending to this book would be like dropping an anvil on their skull from the top of a four-story building. That person could be scarred for life. Look, I know you can't possibly plan for every unforeseen circumstance when it comes to art. But fuck. Come on.
And that's it for the review. I will now close with my personal thoughts. People echo a lot of dumb things about incest they all heard from someone else, so I'm going to dispel some bullshits real quick and maybe educate someone in the process:
"It's disgusting!" / "It's just wrong!" / "It's not natural!"
Nice. Best case, an uninformed opinion. Worst, an emotionally charged bag of hot air. We're starting off real good, humans. Next.
"You can't even have kids! They'll have birth defects!"
This has not been conclusively studied for obvious reasons. While yes, this chance is likely higher, it is still a chance, and one which exists regardless. It's also true that hypothetical long term practice could allow for breeding out undesired genetics. Lastly, who the fuck says that everyone wants kids, anyway? Yet another rite of passage construct that needs to be terminated. That choice is up to the individual.
"If everyone turned to incest, the human race would start to shrink!"
Except that would never, ever happen. Not only is incest a comparably rare preference even without discrimination, but have you noticed there are eight god damn billion people on this planet? What kind of fantasy world do you live in where eight billion people would suddenly die out from anything other than war? The amount of time it would take to observe any meaningful change would be so vast, it would be impossible to guess. Earth is more likely to be given a nuclear winter - ever - than to dwindle in denizens solely from a minority practice. This shit is canned laughter material.
Also as a bonus, anyone who believes in Christianity and holds a negative opinion of incest would seem to have forgotten that in their false view of the world all humans are a product of Adam and Eve. Yeah, it's almost like false religions attract hypocrites who can't even be bothered to adhere to their own canon. Why are these people allowed to ever give their pennies on society? Never trade education for religion - especially not on a prison planet.
But I digress, finally. Forbidden is a great book. The shitshow ending didn't accomplish anything but spite for me, as it relies entirely on the sympathy of a species with more rules for love than war. Overall, a level-header can still derive hope and positivity here. And well, I'm fucking done writing. Hope you made it down here, and remember that Earth society is only here to break you. Don't let it.
November 20, 2021