The Rapture, by Liz Jensen

>> Monday, August 26, 2013

TITLE: The Rapture
AUTHOR: Liz Jensen

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury

SETTING: Near future
TYPE: Thriller

In a merciless summer of biblical heat and destructive winds, Gabrielle Fox`s main concern is a personal one: to rebuild her career as a psychologist after a shattering car accident. But when she is assigned Bethany Krall, one of the most dangerous teenagers in the country, she begins to fear she has made a terrible mistake. Raised on a diet of evangelistic hellfire, Bethany is violent, delusional, cruelly intuitive and insistent that she can foresee natural disasters - a claim which Gabrielle interprets as a symptom of doomsday delusion.

But when catastrophes begin to occur on the very dates Bethany has predicted, and a brilliant, gentle physicist enters the equation, the apocalyptic puzzle intensifies and the stakes multiply. Is the self-proclaimed Nostradamus of the psych ward the ultimate manipulator, or could she be the harbinger of imminent global cataclysm on a scale never seen before? And what can love mean in `interesting times`? A haunting story of human passion and burning faith set against an adventure of tectonic proportions.
It's a few years in the future, and the effects of climate change have become more and more undeniable and ever-present. Extreme weather is much more common, and the changes have led to social movements, from an increasing "faith wave", to "Planetarians" who believe our time on this planet is almost done, and that this is as it should be.

In this world, psychologist Gabrielle Fox is dealing with problems of her own. She's still recovering from a car accident that left her paraplegic and killed her lover. In the wake of it, she's also made big changes in her life, moving to another city, where she knows no one, and taking a new job as an art therapist for very disturbed and dangerous teenagers.

Her most challenging case is Bethany Krall, a girl who murdered her own mother and who's more disturbed and dangerous than any of the other patients. She's receiving a regime of electroshocks, and she's become convinced that they allow her to predict the future. Gabrielle is prepared to treat this as your garden-variety delusion, right until a surprisingly accurate prediction makes her take notice and pay attention to the details of her rantings. When Bethany's next few predictions prove eerily exact, and Gabrielle's new friend, physicist Frazer Melville confirms they weren't just obvious guesses, Gabrielle is convinced. What to do, especially when Bethany's latest prediction is a world-changer?

My summary for this review is: mixed feelings. The Rapture has some great things going for it. It's a real page-turner, with a plot that says a lot about our current fears and anxieties (50-60 years ago this would have been about a nuclear apocalypse, 30-40 years ago it would have been about air and water pollution). It makes great use of Bethany's predictive powers, especially in how the scientists of the story deal with them, and it's the rare book set in the UK or the US where the rest of the world actually exists, and not just as somewhere for terrorists to come from. The characters are interesting and varied, and there is even a romance for Gabrielle.

The romance, however, brings me to the big problem I had with Gabrielle. In the first half of the book, she was a character I enjoyed. She's in a difficult situation, trying hard to hold on to her professionalism in an impossible situation, where it became increasingly clear that she had to choose between it and the lives of millions of people. At the same time, she's still coping with the mental turmoil of how the accident that put her in a wheelchair happened, and with the idea of what the rest of her life will be like. After a while, she's also coping with a new romance, her first since the accident, when she and Frazer, the physicist she consulted about Bethany's predictions hit it off. So, a lot on her plate, but she does the best she can, and I liked that she doesn't do so perfectly. She can be snarky and uncharitable and self-pitying at times, and that made her more interesting.

On the second half, however, she undergoes a personality transfer and becomes even more unhinged than Bethany. I found her selfishness and obliviousness, not to mention her utter stupidity, breathtaking. On suggestive but hardly conclusive, evidence, she jumps to the conclusion that her Frazer is cheating on her. When they speak she never actually tells him what she thinks has happened, she just continues to assume it. And then, for the next half of the book, as global catastrophe approaches and only Frazer and the people he's persuaded over to their cause can do something about it, the thick-as-a-brick nitwit is so completely wrapped up in her sexual jealousy that she's completely disengaged from it all and frankly unhelpful. She's more worried about how she's been betrayed, than about how the world is about to end. And all the while, she's all "if you don't know what the problem is, I'm not going to tell you". I wanted to slap her. More practically, I wanted to stop listening to the book, because I couldn't bear her as a narrator any longer, as annoyance was quickly turning into hatred. I only kept listening because I wanted to see what happened.

I don't know if I should have bothered. I've mixed feelings about the ending as well. It's properly climactic, but at the same time, it feels unsatisfying, because it leaves a bit too much up in the air (figuratively as well as literally). To be fair, I'm not too sure how else Jensen could have ended it without it being a cop-out or completely ridiculous, but what she did didn't quite work for me completely.

I should also mention the writing. I mostly liked it, but it got pretty melodramatic at times. Also, a big annoyance was how Gabrielle kept calling Frazer "Frazer Melville" or "the physicist" in her narration. It felt very awkward. Maybe it was meant to show how mentally she was trying to keep herself distant, out of fear, but considering her obsession with him later, that feels like I'm overthinking it.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The book was narrated by India Fisher, and she was very good. I especially loved the voice she did for Bethany. The text describes it as a bit hoarse and slightly babyish, and that was exactly right in Fisher's rendition. The tone of it was just right, as well, it made me want to slap her a good few times, which is exactly what was intended!


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