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Bleak but pacey thriller
on 17 July 2011
The Rapture by Liz Jensen is a sharply-written thriller which starts small and ends big, as the plot, rolling snowball style, rapidly gathers substance and scope. Gabrielle Fox, recently out of rehabilitation after an accident which has left her paraplegic, is sent to work at a high-security psychiatric institution for criminally disturbed teenagers. Her first patient is Bethany Krall. Now 16, Bethany killed her mother at 14 by repeatedly stabbing her with a screwdriver. Now she's having terrifying, violent and horribly accurate visions of natural disasters. Is Bethany really predicting the future... or is she making it happen?
The Rapture starts slowly before building to a frenetic, tense, action-packed conclusion. However, what it gains in pace it loses in realism and moves firmly into the apocalyptic thriller genre rather than the subtler, more psychological read I was expecting, to the point where I rather felt I'd read two different books altogether. Not that that's really a criticism. It's thought-provoking, deals with huge themes and events, and includes many moments of incredibly dark humour as well as nail-biting tension - there were times when I was strongly reminded of some of the work of Chuck Palahniuk.
I didn't enjoy The Rapture quite as much as I loved Jensen's earlier novel, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax. Interestingly, both novels have at their core a disturbed and dislikeable child with unexplained psychic abilities - but give me creepy, precocious little Louis over the stroppy, attention-seeking Bethany any time. I realise, of course, that Bethany is supposed to be vile, but it's clear that we're also supposed to come to feel sorry for her. And yes, I did... but nowhere as much as I felt the author wanted me to. And ultimately, I preferred the microcosmic focus of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, which revolves around a single dysfunctional family, to the global sweep of The Rapture. But that's a small criticism. The Rapture is crammed with multiple layers of nuance and theme, convincingly flawed characters and a rollercoaster of a plot. Maybe not the most uplifting book you'll ever read, but the more you read, the more you'll struggle to put it down.