Opening sentence: “A devil had flown in through Her bedroom window.”
So, this book has a truly fascinating real-life backstory: In 1919, Mabel Barltrop (aka Octavia) founded the Panacea Society, a religious group of mainly older, widowed middle-class women who believed that Octavia was the eighth prophet and daughter of God. The society’s base is in Bedford, in Octavia’s home in fact – group members would buy up the surrounding property so they could all live together. The timing had a lot to do with the group’s popularity, many of these women had lost loved ones to the war, so now needed something, anything to give them hope again and Octavia did that. She was convinced God spoke to her and gave her messages – this may be a good time to mention that prior to her conversion into the Daughter of God she spent time in a psychiatric hospital and knew a thing or two about organised religion, having been married to a Vicar. It’s just such a fascinating situation; this women’s claims were not only unchallenged but they were confirmed by the founding of the society, the 50+ women (and a few men) that lived in Bedford and 2,000 additional members across the world.
The Rapture is a fictitious account of the society, told from the point of view of Octavia’s 25-year old daughter, Dilys (a member of the society IRL.) Being Octavia’s daughter, she states, ‘I didn’t choose this life. It choose me.’ She is conflicted and her internal struggle is brilliantly written: ‘She might start to wonder if I am like Octavia. And I am not. She hears the voice of God but only the Devil takes the time to whisper in my ear.’ When new recruit, Grace, joins the society, she makes Dilys think about her situation even more and that’s when the action ramps up.
As well as an engrossing story, I really enjoyed the overall tone of The Rapture too, it has a subtle deadpan quality that sneaks in and made me smile: “This is the Garden of Eden. Hidden in plain sight. It was here in Bedford all along.” Also see: ‘She has furnished the inside with every comfort befitting ladies of our station: wicker chairs, pot plants and an air of middle-class judgement.’
This is Claire McGlasson’s debut novel and I love her blending of fact and fiction (sections of the book are real text and quotes from the society) as well as her wonderful characterisation. I interpreted the ending as completely ambiguous and a touch sinister, but the writing is such that you can do that and that’s something I admire so much.
Have you read The Rapture? Would love to know your thoughts!
/ Published by Faber & Faber 2019