A personal memoir by Rebecca Stott, an ex-member of the Exclusive Brethren, due to be published on 1st June.
This substantial book, running almost to 400 pages, describes the lives and loves of several generations of one Brethren family. The postman has just delivered a printed copy to my door, but I have read earlier draft versions and was highly impressed. It reminded me in some ways of The Thorn Birds. I shall comment more when I have read the final version.
The book is particularly well written, and that alone suggests that it will be widely read and therefore influential. Rebecca is a Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing, and is already an accomplished and acclaimed author of both fiction and non-fiction. I thought her novel Ghostwalk was brilliant, breaking new ground in the development of its genre.
I believe In the Days of Rain will be a cited as a primary source of social history for many years in future, just as Gosse’s Father and Son is still frequently cited today for the picture if gives of a Brethren family.
The horror story that Exclusive Brethrenism became is illustrated by a first-hand description of how it affected Rebecca’s nearest and dearest, but she has avoided pejorative and judgmental language, because the facts alone are damning enough.
I shall content myself meanwhile by quoting what it says on the dust-cover. The front cover quotes Olivia Laing’s review:
Inside the flap there is a summary:Beautiful, dizzying, terrifying, [it] maps the unnerving hinterland where faith becomes cruelty and devotion turns into disaster. A brave, frightening and strangely hopeful book.
And on the back cover we have the verdict of Sarah Dunant, author of The Birth of Venus.As Rebecca Stott's father lay dying, he begged her to help him write the memoir he had been struggling with for years. He wanted to tell the story of their family, who for generations had all been members of a fundamentalist Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren. Yet each time he reached a certain point, he became tangled in a thicket of shameful memories and could not go on.
The Brethren were a closed community who believed the world is ruled by Satan: non-Brethren books were banned, women were made to wear headscarves and those who disobeyed the rules were punished. Rebecca's father, like her grandfather, had been an influential Brethren Minister: he preached in the 'Iron Room' of their meeting houses and made choices that would eventually come to haunt him.
Rebecca was born into the Brethren, yet as an intelligent, enquiring child she was always asking dangerous questions. She would discover that her father had been asking them too, and that the faultline between faith and doubt had almost engulfed him.
In this book Rebecca gathers the broken threads of her father's story, and her own, and follows him into the thicket to tell of her family's experiences within the Brethren, and the decades-long aftermath of their breaking away. It is a moving, at times shocking, and deeply personal exploration of the damage done by religious fundamentalism, as well as a passionate plea for the importance of freedom of speech and thought.
By rights Rebecca Stott's memoir ought to be a horror story. But while the historian in her is merciless in exposing cruelties and corruption, Rebecca the child also lights up the book, so passionate and imaginative that it helps explain how she survived, and - even more miraculous - found the compassion and understanding to do justice to the story of her father and the painful family life he created.