No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011/26: The Rapture -- Liz Jensen

What has happened to us? How is it that we, the inventors of devices that fly across oceans, hurtle to other planets, burrow underground, and kill from a distance; we, the atom-splitters, the antibiotic-discoverers, the computer-modellers, the artificial-heart-implanters, the creators of GM crops and ski-slopes in Dubai, have failed to see five minutes beyond our own lifetimes? (p. 302)

Summer, heatwaves, storms and the Faith Wave: The Rapture is set in near-future Britain, a couple of years after the 2012 Olympics, in a south-coast town that reminds me more than a little of Folkestone.

Psychotherapist Gabrielle Fox is broken, physically and emotionally, after a car crash that claimed her lover's life. She applies for -- and, against the advice of former colleagues, gets -- a job at Oxsmith, an institute for teenage psychiatric patients. Gabrielle, who specialises in art therapy, finds herself working with Bethany Krall, a sixteen-year-old girl who murdered her mother with a Philips screwdriver.

Bethany, daughter of a charismatic Christian preacher, claims that she can predict natural disasters. She's scornful of Gabrielle's attempts to convince her that it's sheer randomness. As prediction after prediction is fulfilled, Gabrielle gradually begins to take Bethany's visions more seriously: scribbled sketches of a falling statue; an image of a crane-operator's cab, complete with porn on the wall; a warning about the Tribulation, 'something we've never seen before'.

Gabrielle's new relationship with physicist Frazer Melville (who, irritatingly, is referred to by his full name or his occupation throughout) gives her some insight into possible mechanisms behind Bethany's gift, or curse. Van Gogh's skies, especially those painted while he was suffering from epilepsy, apparently depict accurate models of turbulence: Frazer Melville suggests that the electro-shock therapy Bethany's undergoing is producing a similar effect in her brain. In which case, it should be possible to elicit more predictions, to discover the nature of the catastrophe that Bethany believes will destroy the human race ...

The Rapture -- which I read in a single day, May 21st (Rapture Day as predicted by Harold Camping) -- feels like a novel of two halves. The first half explores Bethany's illness and her visions, and has a sense of gathering force: the second, though, is much more concerned with Gabrielle's paranoia and self-doubt, and the romance between her and Frazer Melville.

Not a happy ending: there are no happy endings here. But if you squint, Bethany and Gabrielle both get what they want, and what they need.

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