Book Review: Carys Bray, A Song for Issy Bradley
I’ve begun to think that when it comes to novels about faith, the stories about loosing your religion are much more interesting than the ones about finding it. Take Jude the Obscure for instance. I listened to a recent radio adaptation of this wonderful classic and fell in love all over again with Hardy’s portrayals of passion, loss, sorrow and despair, but most of all with his ability to bring character and story to our questions about what it means to be human and our relationship to God. I think this is one of the more things that I am looking for in a novel.
I wanted to post a quick book review today because recently I had so much fun reading fiction and I’ve managed to find so many books that ask the right questions and help me explore the all possible answers through different voices and perspectives.
The book is, A Song for Issy Bradley by Southport writer, Carys Bray.
I read about this novel in my local free paper. Bray had been nominated for a Costa first novel award. The intersection of her themes and personal story completely captured my imagination. Bray was brought up in a committed Mormon household, and lived a good proportion of her adult life as a devout member of the Mormon community, until she lost her faith and along with her family re-forged a life without God. She had previously published a collection of short stories and has said that this is her first serious attempt to write about faith.
The story is of a mother, Claire, who after losing her young daughter to meningitis, is shocked into re-examining the religious beliefs and practises she has taken for granted. Claire, a convert to Mormonism has been a faithful student and follower of the faith, but she emerges from the shock of her loss with new questions about why God does not always answer prayers. Her husband Ian is a bishop in their local congregation, a kind man, he is completely caught up in the needs of his congregation and desperate to carry on as usual. When Claire takes to her bed Ian struggles to hide the true situation from a church community who have certain expectations of their leaders. Their three children are left to find their own way through a maze of questions and grief in the wake of their sister’s death.
I found the writing intelligent and the observations of religious culture sharply yet sensitively portrayed. Bray has a gift for cataloguing some of the faintly ridiculous aspects of religious behaviour without being mean or spiteful. She also has a gift for exploring the big questions of faith and doubt without making you feel like you’re back in Philosophy 101. Southport readers will enjoy the local detail.
If you decide to read this book (and it is recently out in paperback) I think your heart will melt for this family and their story, especially little Jacob who is praying for a miracle that will bring his sister back to life, or for teenage sister Zippy falling in love for the first time. Most of all, in the final chapters prepare yourself for a surprising touch of grace from an author who just can’t seem to let go of the possibility of miracles, awe and wonder.
Listen to the author talking about the book …
And a short example of the beautiful writing …
“While she was waiting the water has swept along rifts in the sand and arced around her. She is stranded on a craggy island, surrounded by dark, charging sea; not deep yet, only knee height, certainly no more than thigh height. As the tide unfolds, her island will shrink and sink and she will have to make a choice. There is only one set of footprints and they are her own. No one has walked beside her. No one has carried her.
She can’t see the costal road or the car park but she is aware of the sweep of the beach and the distance she must cover before she reaches safety. And when she turns to check the incoming tide she sees how she might drift out of this world and into the next…”