I have just read a couple of books which could not possibly be further apart. (Well, that’s not strictly true. I’m saying it for effect really. It’s a bad habit). Please ignore Morecambe. He crashed this photo because there is a Biblical storm brewing outside and he tends to like to be as close to us as possible when this sort of thing is happening.
The first book is The Diary of a (Trying to be holy) Mum by Fiona Lloyd. And it is indeed the diary of a mum who is trying to be holy, which is a relief. Now I am a mum – of children – but one was round here last night watching football, polishing off a humongous pizza and talking career choices, gaming and tatoos. (By the way. Am quite tempted by tiny tatoo. Any thoughts? Only comment if it isn’t negative. Will break my heart if anyone calls me a silly old fool) The other child is dressing shop windows in GAP, studying film at university and sharing a flat in impoverished circumstances. So, my children are no longer the children that Fiona is writing about in this book. But they definitely were. Her children throw up on parents’ date night, they play “Happy Birthday” on recorder first thing in the morning. They are typical young kids. The author’s, I think, only slightly fictional diary of mum Becky Hudson is warm, realistic and full of the shortcomings that most mums feel. Especially Christian Mums. There is always that question of “Am I doing well enough” and always the perfect Christian Mum that makes you think you are not. She is actually much more gracious to these paragons of virtue than I ever was. I spent half my life being intimidated by them and half fantasizing about running behind them and pushing them over. Oh and another half (I know, I know) feeling sorry for being such a ratbag (a bit). It rattles along well and is a lovely read. It’s all very recognisable very comforting and, if Becky seems a lot more popular with more friends in church then I ever had, then I think that probably says a lot more about me than it does about Becky.
The second book is a chicken of a completely different feather. “In the Days of Rain.” by Rebecca Stott is a Costa Book Award winner from 2017. Sometimes award winning books can blather on a bit, let’s be honest but this is something else. It tells the story of a daughter spending some time with her father in his final days. As she does so, they go through his old papers and memories and she looks into their shared past in the closed Christian Bretheren. I had a small brush with the Bretheren myself when I was a child. Aged Parent (male version) had some involvment in a Bretheren fellowship and took me along to a few meetings. They all seemed very nice and lots of them gave me sweets. However, when some other Bretheren arrived and suggested that Aged Parent (male version) should maybe not be sharing the dinner table with his non-Christian wife, he backed off. (Although it does occur to me that what with the crying, long silences and spoon throwing that sometimes attended the dinner table in our house, the idea wasn’t entirely without merit.) The sect, and I think we do have to call it that, that the author writes about was a completely closed community, banning books, tv and radio. Members were forbidden from joining professional organisations and lost their jobs as a result. They were to come out completely from the world. Any disobedience was dealt with by shunnings and shamings. The results were shattered familes, breakdowns and suicides. When the inner workings cracked open, it was no surprise to find the leadership wasn’t quite what it seemed to be.
This is so well written. It has a moodiness and a heavy atmosphere about it. Her father leaves the Bretheren and loses his faith. He gambles, drinks and has affairs at full speed as if he is trying to reclaim something he missed. The book is strangely hopeful and is packed with her love for her father. There are some heavy warnings about the way we can take the most benign and graceful message and turn it into something disgusting, yet when she writes about the closeness and support the community gave, you get a kind of shadow of how it was supposed to be and how they missed it. It has stayed with me for a long time. If you get the chance to read it, please do.