Liz Jensen: The Rapture
The Rapture, Liz Jensen
Bloomsbury, 341pp, £7.99 pbk
Gabrielle Fox is a therapist, assigned temporarily to Oxbridge Adolescent Secure Psychiatric Hospital. She is also a T9 paraplegic – in her own words, “nothing works below the waist” – after a car accident two years earlier.
Her chief patient at Oxbridge is Bethany Krall, a teenage girl who killed her mother by repeatedly stabbing her with a screwdriver.
In the near-future of The Rapture, the Earth is dying – global warming is far more advanced than it is today, with near-tropical temperatures in the UK – and this has resulted in the “Faith Wave”, a resurgence in fundamentalist religion.
Bethany’s parents were hardline Christians; her father is a practising preacher. As part of her treatment at Oxbridge, Bethany is undergoing electro-convulsive therapy.
After each session, she claims to see future disasters… and predicts them with uncanny accuracy: a severe earthquake in Istanbul, a hurricane in Rio de Janeiro… and an earth-shattering catastrophe a few weeks away.
If The Rapture had been written by a science fiction writer, it would have been about the end of the world and the means by which humanity survives the catastrophe.
But The Rapture wasn’t published by a genre imprint, Jensen is not a sf author, and the book is marketed as literary fiction.
So it’s about Gabrielle Fox. She narrates the story – in the present tense – and it is her embittered, secular view on the End Times, and on Bethany’s predictive visions, which form the plot of The Rapture.
The human race may be in danger of extinction, and the population of the western world might have turned to God to “save” them, but Gabrielle’s own world ended when she lost the use of her legs, and even now she hasn’t really come to terms with it.
She’s also not an especially nice person – insecure, bitter, inclined to self-pity, angry most of the time. Bethany Krall is even angrier. Both are clearly as damaged as the Earth itself has become.
There’s more to simply the ending and characters which signals that The Rapture is not a genre work, despite its near-future catastrophe setting.
Bethany’s predictions are never explained – there’s no mechanism outlined in the text to make them plausible, beyond some vague authorial hand-waving about “turbulence” and “vibrations”.
In fact, the plotting turns less believable as the novel progresses, with events occurring with increasing frequency.
After the situations of both Gabrielle and Bethany both worsen, following some bad decisions by the former, it all turns right in the third act. Which in turn leads to an overly cinematic ending – i.e., one that provides no real closure, but relies on imagery alone to satisfy the reader.
And yet, despite its failure to engage as a genre work, The Rapture works very well.
The prose is very good indeed, the characterisation is excellent, and Jensen has clearly done her research (without making it obtrusive).
Some sf fans like to say that science fiction is about the impact of ideas on people. Sadly, most sf isn’t about that at all: it’s only about ideas.
If you want to see what fiction about the impact of ideas on people, about the ramifications of ideas, is really like, then you should to read science fiction novels by non-sf writers. Like The Rapture.
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