Claire McGlasson: The Rapture
Published By: Faber Books
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
Dilys is a devoted member of The Panacea Society, populated almost entirely by virtuous single ladies.
When she strikes up a friendship with Grace, a new recruit, God finally seems to be smiling upon her. The friends become closer as they wait for the Lord to return to their very own Garden of Eden, and Dilys feels she has found the right path at last.
But Dilys is wary of their leader’s zealotry and suspicious of those who would seem to influence her for their own ends. As her feelings for Grace bud and bloom, the Society around her begins to crumble. Faith is supplanted by doubt as both women come to question what is true and fear what is real.
What I Say:
When I think of the word ‘cult’, I immediately think of an American organisation, loud, proud and overt in their operation and recruiting. Not for one minute would I have imagined that there would be a society nestled in Bedford, hidden behind pristine walls with a beautiful garden that would strive in its mission to convince the world that the Daughter of God was residing behind them, ready to eventually take her rightful place.
That is the belief behind the Panacea Society, a group of predominantly women, who are seemingly quiet and unassuming, and are united behind Mabel Barltrop, wife of a Vicar and mother of four. Mabel has decided that she has been chosen by God to be his Daughter, and that she and the Society need to persuade the Bishops to visit their home so they can open together the infamous box which was sealed by the Prophetess Joanna Southcott who has placed items of great religious importance inside. Then they can prepare for the Second Coming where Mabel can finally fulfill her prophecy.
Mabel has now been reborn as Octavia, and with her devoted disciples, she now rules the Panacea Society, dispensing advice and stringent religious fervour as she sees fit.
Dilys is the eyes and ears for the reader, we see the Panacea Society through her experiences and day to day existence. It is not a life punctuated by fervour and passion, instead, the members of the Society seem to live an almost genteel life, united in their unquestioning following of Octavia, and their desire to be present when Joanna Southcott’s mysterious box is finally opened.
Dilys is a young and seemingly unquestioning recruit to the Society, but she starts to wonder what they are doing and why. As well as the members within the walls of the house, they receive communication from believers who live all around the world, all looking for help and cures for ills from Octavia. She has a productive sideline of sending out pieces of linen that have been blessed by her, as well as a newsletter and healing water, all of which Octavia uses to occupy the increasingly questioning Dilys.
When Dilys meets a young woman called Grace, she is immediately drawn to her, and as they start to form a friendship, Grace decides to devote herself to the Panacea Society too. Due to her social position, Grace is unable to afford to contribute any money, so instead she works as a maid for them.
This is the catalyst for a chain of events which slowly pulls at the very seams of the Panacea Society. We may believe that this group of individuals are leading a religious and innocent life, but Claire has skilfully and gently pulled us in to their world, whilst at the same time showing us that the very concerns and worries they believe they are immune from, are seeping into the cracks that are now starting to form.
As Dilys and Grace become closer, Dilys cannot hide from the fact she is attracted to Grace, and The Rapture of the title for Dilys is not a religious awakening, but a sexual one. As she falls in love with Grace, she starts to look at her closeted world with new eyes, and realises that this claustrophobic world may not be all there is.
While Dilys is starting to unfurl from her shell, the rest of the Panacea Society is starting to shift and question the teachings and leader that they follow. Emily, one of Octavia’s trusted followers, now claims she is possessed by a spirit which tells Octavia and the society what she must do next. However, Dilys knows that Emily’s sudden channelling of spirits may have more to do with her desire to take over the Panacea Society as oppose to any religious fervour.
Little by little, the foundations of the Panacea Society are slowly crumbling, and they are unable to stop the outside world from creeping in. The seemingly omnipotent Octavia and her closest allies are not only hiding from the outside world, but are also keeping secrets from the rest of the Society. Behind closed doors and in hushed whispers, allegiances are formed, secrets are shared, and a Mother and Daughter are aware of the fact that the origins of the society are borne out of a spell in a psychiatric institution that devastated their childhood and subsequent lives. When Grace becomes all too aware of what is really happening, she is ‘let go’. Dilys’ love for Grace leads her to finally find the strength to try and live her own life – outside of the Panacea Society at a cost she could not possibly have predicted.
Claire’s pitch and pace of the novel are perfect, as it starts seemingly so innocently and in fact, delighting in its mundanity. However, as the novel progresses, there are little hints, verbal clues and Dilys’ deadpan observations about the Society that starts to add to the tension and sense that something is shifting and starting to unravel. The Panacea Society is no longer their safe haven, ready for the Bishops to come and see the Daughter of God. It is a place where lies are told, secrets are shared, lives are destroyed, and vulnerable people are the playthings of the leaders.
The characters are all worthy of a novel in their own right, and Claire writes with such clarity and compassion about them all. However awful Emily might be, or when Octavia tries to implement new commandments as Dilys yearns to be her own woman, you understand that all these people want is to be part of something, to belong to a group which will define them and reveal to them their ordained purpose.
Claire McGlasson has written a novel which examines so many ideas and themes. Obviously the overreaching one is one of religious devotion, of giving oneself without question to someone else whatever the cost, but it would be naive to only see that. The Rapture is a story of love and power, of what happens when a daughter like Dilys devotes herself completely to assuaging her mother, until someone like Grace comes into her life to show Dilys what real love is. It is a story of how Dilys strives so desperately to finally be free and live her life as she chooses, but that for a young unmarried woman after the First World War, freedom of life, love and choice is never ever their own.
The Rapture is not simply a novel about the disintegration of a Society, which is forced to confront its limitations and didactic nature of its leaders. It is a finely tuned and thought provoking contemplation of how a group of people who unite to seek solace in a belief system, find themselves lost when the idyllic religious Paradise they were promised, slips uncontrollably from their grasp.
I loved it.
Thank you very much to Lauren Nicoll and Faber for asking me to be part of this Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.
You can see what these other brilliant bloggers are saying about The Rapture by following them here.
Author Picture Of Claire McGlasson.