Leaving Gilead by Robert Crompton
|Leaving Gilead by Robert Crompton|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Bunderlin author Robert Crompton, introduces us to a young couple fighting a European form of religious fundamentalism who then show us the cost of trying to escape it. An engaging story ringing with authenticity and fluctuating hope. Robert Crompton popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 238||Date: May 2014|
|External links: Author's website|
Tom Sparrow finally does what he's always dreamt of: buying the former Ridley house near his old childhood home. As Tom explores he finds his new house isn't the only link with his past. There's something in the outhouse that takes him back to the days of young love and Susan, the Ridley's daughter. She had been raised in her parents' prohibitive faith as a Gilead Jehovah's Witness which didn't seem a problem to them but they were young and experience wasn't on their side…
As outlined in his non-fiction study Counting the Days to Armageddon Robert was raised a Jehovah's Witness. Therefore as we read about Susan and her bid to escape her family's sectish fundamentalist beliefs, we realise that it's based on actual experience. In the novel the religious world of the Gileads (a specific evangelising wing of the Jehovah's Witnesses) links the fictitious world of Tom and Susan to battles that are being fought in reality.
Eventually we read Susan's view but to begin with we see it from the view of an outsider, Tom, who doesn’t realise how complicated falling in love will become.
We know from the beginning that it doesn't go well as we first meet the older Tom with a different girlfriend. However his purchase of the Ridley house floods the pages with his memories.
Indeed, because we think we can guess what happened (an assumption that will backfire on us), this is more about the journeys of the instantly likeable Tom and Susan rather than the destination. Young Tom is a decent lad, trying again for a university place after lousing up his first attempt. Susan is a typist but wants so much more out of a life dominated by her mother and two brothers.
Robert handles their love and relationship as facts rather than as a sentimental heart-tugger. It's obvious that they become devoted to each other without the need for graphic sex scenes or over-burdening with detail on that front as that’s not the focus. (No spoilers but there's one particular 5 hour blank that made me smile at Robert's delicacy.) Their focus and therefore ours is Tom's attempt to build their life together and Susan's attempt to free herself in order to join him.
The 'Gileads' don't come out of this very well as we look inside an organisation that espouses double standards and exists despite internal bickering. This part could be a description of the inner workings of any man-made organisation and, as the wife of C of E clergy, I make no comparisons! However linked with a prohibitive, fundamentalist idea of religion where scriptural texts are quoted way out of context to prove dangerous points without argument or contradiction (unlike the C of E and many other mainstay faiths/denominations), a sinister element is introduced. This leads us to develop a greater concern for Susan and her very physical survival.
The supporting cast includes light and warmth to counter the dark frigidity of the Ridleys. Melanie, Tom's accidentally acquired lodger and almost-relative sparkles with wit and youthful exuberance. At the other end of the age scale, when it comes do dear Mam Tunstall, I dare anyone not to love her.
Through these and other people, Robert guides us to a bravely authentic ending which brought a tear to my eye followed by a leap of anticipation to my heart… or wherever leaps of anticipation are emitted from… wondering what will come from the Crompton computer next.
(Grateful thanks to the author for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: We also recommend Robert's debut novel the aforementioned Bunderlin for a different experience of the author's breadth.
You can read more about Robert Crompton here.
Robert Crompton was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
You can read more book reviews or buy Leaving Gilead by Robert Crompton at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Leaving Gilead by Robert Crompton at Amazon.com.
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Cassandra Clark, author of the Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery series said:
Well-written, this was unusual and enjoyable. The characters were believable and their dilemmas involving. Good sense of landscape.