The Rapture, by Liz Jensen

I bought this book because I liked the cover and there was a quote from Irvine Welsh on the cover telling me how great this apocalyptic, political, environmental thriller is. And it really is.

The book follows art therapist, Gabrielle- sharp, bitter and wickedly dry- who is tasked with helping a particularly troubled inmate of a young offenders institution, a girl called Bethany. Not only has Bethany been locked up in a bleakly realised mental institution – the smell of chlorine, the institutional colours, inmates rocking in their chairs- for the horrific murder of her religious mother, but she can predict natural disasters. Or at least, she seems to be able to with unnerving accuracy.

The book kicks off in a sweltering England, the temperature is soaring and Gabrielle, who tells us this story, is wheelchair bound and suffering. Though partially recovered physically, she is psychologically damaged by the after-effects of an horrific car accident. Bethany is her last ditch attempt at salvaging a career on the verge of collapse.

The dynamic between Gabrielle and Bethany is delicately constructed; despite the coarsness of Bethany’s language and the unpredicatabilty of her actions, the scenes where Gabrielle and Bethany are locked in a power struggle tell us the most about their insecurities and weaknesses. These two characters create the focal point for a story that is filled with doom – very exciting, very tense and very powerful doom.

As the weather becomes more unpredictable, this odd pair become embroiled in a scheme that hopes to save the world, no less. Bethany’s indifference to the world and Gabrielle’s belligerent compassion for it make the approaching apocalypse all the more human – and all the more terrifying.

A book about saving the world from an environmental  disaster sounds like a Roland Emmerich film on paper; all that’s missing is a rousing speech from the President, a dog narrowly escaping disaster and everything would be sorted out and squared away neatly. But Jensen fills the story with shrewd and terrifying observations.  Religion, politics, society, art and of course the environment all get analysed under Jensen’s critical eye. But don’t be put off by the ‘big themes’; this is no ponderous meditation on the future of humanity, it’s a cliff-hanging, page-turning treat.

The characters are so believably drawn, the landscapes so expertly described, with a sense of nostalgic affection and outright disgust in equal measure it creates a convincing and gritty picture of a country- and the world- on the verge of collapse. The great thing about this book is how pursuasive it is: rarely do you stop and think how bonkers the whole thing is, how blockbustery the storyline or why certain characters don’t act with a shred of common sense – Jensen’s writing makes it scary, real and immediate.

You’ll want to finish it in one big  session, as I wanted to. I couldn’t, because my bus journey is only 40 minutes long. But still, you get the idea. Go out and read it. Or I’ll lend you my copy if you ask nicely…

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