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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.
I read the cover copy (I do that sometimes) and the word God jumped out. I confess (not a religious term) that I reacted in a similar way to Oliver Kitten dealing with a fur ball … I backed off and sort of gagged.
Metaphorically holding my nose, I opened the book.
Ah, a letter: ‘Bedford, England, 1926’. I read the message from the author and accepted it as part of the conceit. Yes, I know that it says that it is a work of fiction based on real events, but I sort of skimmed over that part…
A community of (mainly) women is created by Mabel/Octavia. The cult is based in Bedford. Together they are wanting to open a box left by Joanna Southcott which will reveal a panacea for all disease and despair. The problem is that the box is to be opened in front of all the bishops in England who must recognise the rule of women.
Dilys, a devoted member of the Panacea Society, meets Grace (in a church) and introduces her to the commune. Dilys feels special and Grace, having been embraced by the devout followers of Octavia, boosts Dilys’ standing amongst her peers. Grace and Dilys become ‘special’ friends.
Gradually, the fundamental rules of the society are revealed. The garden shared by the houses is Eden and cult members are free from worldly vices and death.
Of course, to quote Yeats and his Second Coming, ‘the centre cannot hold.’ There is a power struggle. Emily, once a humble maid seizes her chance and runs the show. A member dies. Dying (previously not acknowledged) is fine now, the woman has been called to pave the way for the coming. Twisting reality? Does this ring any bells?
A gay chap is ‘helped’ to leave the society. He had to be helped because everyone in the cult has surrendered their money. He dies.
A showman opens a box which he says is the one belonging to Ms Southcott. There is much attention, but the Panacea Society are adamant that they have the real box and prepare an extravagant house for the bishops.
Grace leaves and wants her lover to leave too but Dilys can’t. The reasons are not for me to explain.
Actually, Dilys does get out but it’s not a happy exit.
Madness, cult followers and its supporters populate this exquisitely written novel. False news, shifting beliefs and falsehood abound. More bells ringing?
I was upset by it. Upset because of the echoes of the situation in the world today.
The author’s note at the end is incredible. What I thought was fiction, was real! There were a few twists but there is a museum to prove most of the ‘story’.
I can’t recommend this novel enough. The writing is extraordinary. My attitude towards religion (and political parties) was confirmed and my firm belief that people can be led by the nose was endorsed.
Be a Grace, fight the cult of hatred and ‘sameness’… Read this book.
*I see reviews posted which express an upset about the ‘liberties’ taken in Ms McGlasson’s book. How annoying. I can name many films and books which are based on fact – try Titanic for example. Did Jack exist? This highly talented author has taken real events, a real cult, real power struggles and presents it to the reader to digest. I salute her novel and her message.
Claire McGlasson is a journalist who works for ITV News and enjoys the variety of life on the road with a TV camera. She lives in Cambridgeshire. The Rapture is her debut novel.