Order for £16.19 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Friday Gospels, By Jenn Ashworth. Sceptre, £17.99
Tuesday 26 February 2013
In a crucial scene towards the end of Jenn Ashworth's remarkable new novel, a Mormon Bishop enjoins the homecoming missionary to conceal his sense of failure, when testifying to the congregation: "I'm just asking you to look at things in the best possible way. And to help other people to do that too." During his two years' away, the missionary, Gary, has failed to convert a single person to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, but the Bishop claims that: "What the ward is after is inspiration, not a list of facts and figures."
Inspirational testimony is, by this definition, selective. After Gary declares that he "can't do anything except tell the truth," the Bishop responds by saying: "Yes, but you can emphasise the most important aspects." According to the Bishop, testifying to religious "truth" means emphasising only the spiritual, uplifting and "important aspects" of experience, but Gary worries that by not saying everything, he is being dishonest.
In this sense, Ashworth's novel is strangely closer to Gary's model of truth than the Bishop's. The main characters – all from the same Mormon family – bear witness to their experiences over a day, revealing everything. Each chapter is structured as a pseudo-religious testimony from one of the family members.
As one character suggests, it ranges over a "whole gamut" of emotions, from "spitty sobbings and nose blowings to silent, dignified overflowing". It ranges over a whole gamut of thoughts as well: over the day, the narrators are variously contemplating, on the one hand, the efficacy of prayer, the value of friendship, the nature of miracles, and, on the other, pregnancy, suicide, escape, debt, infidelity, abduction.
Ashworth's characters are divided souls, with one foot in heaven, one on earth. At one point, one character, spying on another, observes the mother "pointing ... at the ceiling". "She could be talking about God or loft insulation," he thinks – and the poignant truthfulness of Ashworth's novel inheres in its ability to encompass and appreciate the significance of both.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 4 Adam Levine's biggest fan had a panic attack upon meeting him, so the singer laid down on the floor to get a photo with him
- 5 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
Fifty Shades of Grey banned by Indian censors despite sex scenes being edited out
The Great Comic Relief Bake Off, TV review: Alexa Chung impresses, but Chris Moyles makes Paul Hollywood gag
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Seth Rogan's pot fumes delay hacked Sony boss’s office move
India's Daughter: BBC Four documentary provokes outrage on Twitter
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin