The Rapture By Claire McGlasson – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 6th June 2019

Can we just take a little moment to appreciate the cover of this book…….and also whilst we’re at it, how it compliments my Laura Ashley wallpaper…..(which is going by the way, gives me terrible night terrors….but that’s by the by).

The Rapture is based on the true story of The Panacea Society from the 1920’s in Bedford. The society was headed up by a vicar’s wife named Mabel who reinvented herself as Octavia, Daughter Of God.

Octavia and her followers believe that to heal the world of all pain and evil, women need to lead the way. Joanna Southcott, a prophetess from 100 years prior reputedly sealed the answers in a mysterious box, however, to open it they have to convince the male members of the church to accept the rule of women.

The society are busy making their preparations for the arrival of the bishops and the subsequent opening of the treasured box, the location of which is unknown, however Octavia is certain that it’s whereabouts will be revealed when the time is right.

What will happen after the opening of the box can surely only be the second coming of Christ and the society followers are living their lives each day hoping to be ‘faultless, colourless, zero’ in order to please him when he finally arrives to save them.

This means they live by many documented rules, the list being added to almost daily.

‘limit all dialogue to pleasantries and practicalities. Do not question. Only obey.

Do not make sandwiches of your bread and butter’

There is no occasion on which it is correct to spread a handkerchief on the lap at tea.

Never allow the arm to rest on the table.

In using pepper, do not scatter it so it affects your neighbour.

An ‘excuse me’ should always follow a sneeze.

Creaking shoes should be apologised for and corrected as soon as possible.

Followers also have to observe each other carefully and note down any indiscretions, flauting of rules and such like, and report them to Octavia.

Dilys is our protagonist and we hear the story in the first person perspective. Dilys lives at number 12 Albany Road with Octavia and a couple of other followers. Octavia has a close inner circle of followers who she has secret meetings with and with whom she performs hidden rituals. Dilys often feels on the periphery of this, as if she is not good enough and strives to live up to Octavia’s high expectations.

She feels as if she is constantly lacking the requirements of a true follower, feels awkward, and is somehow disappointing Octavia in her actions or inactions.

One day whilst out for a walk, Dilys detours into a local church and meets a young girl named Grace. Dilys feels an instant connection to inquisitive Grace and invites her to come and visit her at Albany Road, meet with Octavia and find out more about the society.

From here on in, Dilys and Grace form a strong bond and Dilys begins to develop strong feelings for Grace which she feels go against all the teachings of the society and against the will of God. Whilst she struggles with her intense feelings, she also battles with her strange relationship with Octavia and the fact that her brother, once a member of the society himself is disapproving of the society’s way of life and is desperate for her to see the light and leave.

But just how much of a hold does the society have over Dilys and can she break free of the overpowering zealot that is Octavia?

This book is an absolutely perfect example of a Google Book, a book which during reading (and immediately after in this case!) I felt compelled to grab my phone and Google the real life facts and details.  This subject is absolutely fascinating and the fictional story which Claire McGlasson has weaved around the facts is utterly absorbing.

I really enjoyed the developing relationship between Dilys and Grace, it is such a beautiful bond and connection they share.  Dily is a character who got under my skin.  I was willing her on and hoping she would eventually see the light and break free from Octavia’s hold. She’s perfectly imperfect and I enjoyed watching the change in her personality as the story progressed.

The real life background of how the society came to be is at the start of the book, this was very helpful in setting the scene and filling in some gaps.  As I started reading I found myself flipping back to this page to familiarise myself with the workings of the society and fully engage myself with their ethos.

I’ve always found cults fascinating, the way in which they are formed, how the leaders garner recruits, their respect and their unwavering devotion based on very little that is factual. What I found eye opening about the Panacea Society was the way the rules were changed to suit their beliefs. Their ideas surrounding death (they believe they are immortal) shaken when death does indeed infiltrate the society (as it obviously must at some point!) their beliefs around death are then re-written to suit what they cannot change.

Claire McGlasson has weaved a perfect fictionalised story around the solid framework of fact. I think there is a very fine balance of creating a fictional world, an engaging story, but also providing enough factual detail to keep the reader committed to not only reading on, but doing their own research after they have finished reading the book.

In fact it was the very end of this book that gave me pause to think about the real women behind the society all those years ago.  Claire McGlasson gives us an explanation as to how she came up with the idea for the story of The Rapture, and how a certain photograph inspired the character of Dilys and what actually became of the real life ‘Dilys’ from this photograph. I got chills. A perfect way to end this very special book.

I must just say that I really need to visit The Panacea Museum in Bedford after reading this book. Even writing the review has made me get myself back on Google to look at some pictures.

This is a very accomplished and thoroughly researched debut novel and I am sure I will love anything that Claire McGlasson writes in the future. Isn’t it great when you discover great new authors!

Get your hands on a copy!

Thank you as always to the publisher for my proof copy (and my beautiful finished copy!) and for having me on the blog tour. Please do check out what the other lovely bloggers think too.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

*The quoted rules in this blog post are taken from the proof and not the finished copy.

 

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