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.
The Rapture is set in Bedford England during the 1920’s and is based on a real life cult known as The Panacea Society. Founder and Leader Octavia (real name Mabel a wife of a vicar) believes she is the daughter of God and has set up this society, gathering followers who all live close by to one another, indeed in the same streets, awaiting the return of Christ and their own eternal life in The Garden of Eden (in Bedford!). Her message to her followers and to the world is that to rid the world of all pain and evil women must lead the way. Living under some seriously strict rules and constantly being observed by one another they await the opening of a box. Left 100 years previously by a prophetess called Joanna Southcott Octavia believes this box holds the key to Christ’s second coming, and even though she does not know where the box is, she believes it will show itself when the time is right.
All very bizarre stuff, right? But the way the author has researched and written this novel and the fact that this really did all take place makes for an interesting read.
Dilys, young and often feeling on the outside of the main group of Octavia and her most avid followers, is our main narrator. After taking a stroll to a nearby church she meets Grace and invites her to come to her house to meet Octavia and learn more about the society. Grace soon joins and the two young women develop a close and touching friendship. With this new friend and therefore a new set of eyes in which to view her life, Dilys starts to question her own belief and the trustworthiness of society members.
I found this a slow moving book which is very much about characterisation rather than plot. It delves deep into the minds and emotions of it’s characters and deals with the mental health and vulnerability that they have and therefore the control Octavia manages to have over them. I also felt it shined a light onto Octavia’s own mental state. Some of the things that they believe in and the ways in which they are willing to live their lives are hard to believe, but that is exactly how it is.
The later part of the book moves along a little quicker as we find out what happens to Grace and Dilys. There is also an interesting piece at the end of the book from the author explaining a little more behind the society.
The Rapture is published by Faber & Faber and is out now!