I have a number of books that I keep to lend to friends when they ask me for a good read. Liz Jensen’s The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is one such. I’m surprised to find that I haven’t reviewed it here but I obviously read it pre-blog. In any case it’s a unique and bold piece of fiction, a definite 5-star read and one that puts any new Jensen on the Lizzy radar.
The Rapture too is a bold thriller set in the near future. Bethany Krall, perpetrator of a gruesome matricide., is incarcerated into a secure unit for problem teenagers.. She has never revealed the motive for her crime and is unresponsive to treatments, until subjected to electric shock therapy. These have an unforeseen side-effect. – she begins to prophesy natural disasters – one after the other, culminating in the big one, the end of the world as we know it. Bethany has worn down a number of psychotherapists and it is now the turn of Gabrielle Fox, to whom the saying “physician heal thyself” might be applied. She is recovering from a trauma which has left her in a wheelchair with emotional scars on a par with her physical wounds and she is in no state to cope with Bethany’s malevolence.
Two main characters, both psychologically distraught, pitched together in a battle of minds – a brutal battle not devoid of comedy. Bethany’s already psychotherapy-wise knowing how to push Gabrielle’s buttons. Gabrielle can’t see the flood for the Freudianism which is not surprising really – distracted as she is, mourning the loss of her sex life. But good news is round the corner and he comes in the form of Frazier Melville, a scientist who also takes Bethany’s predictions seriously – putting both his and Gabrielle’s professions at risk, adding another layer of jeopardy to the proceedings.
The ultimate danger is, of course, this apocalypse. The ultimate irony that it is foreseen by a fallen Evangelical Christian, for this is Bethany’s stock. Jensen using it to flesh out the religious beliefs that come with the title of her novel and the jury is out on whether she does this in a balanced way – the tipping point for me is the unsavory portrayal of Bethany’s minister father. That negativity, to be fair, counterbalanced by the implicit critique of the scientific community, shown to be just as dogmatic as the Evangelicals.
Let’s return for the final time to the apocalpse. Will it happen as Bethany predicts? Will there be survivors? As the time approaches, the pace accelerates and the science behind the vision is clarified. Now that is frightening for as the author’s afterword makes clear, it is real and gives Jensen’s thriller a real edge transending the limitations of the thriller genre.
Jensen’s prose is lucid, precise, full of intelligent details (loved the Frida Kahlo allusions) and her pacing of the novel generally superb. I did tire of Gabrielle’s overwrought jealousy, though I understood the psychological accuracy of its inclusion. However, if there’s one flaw it’s Jensen’s propensity to seediness. It’s not sustained but when it happens, I want to spit it out. As for Gabrielle’s and Frazier’s bedroom activities – enough already – and that final clarifying detail in Bethany’s vision – utterly unnecessary! For that I deduct a star – just one. My misgivings are minor. This is a fantastic read and I don’t want you leaving this review thinking otherwise.
The Rapture will be discussed on tonight’s Channel 4 Book Group. Can’t wait to hear what the panel think ……