The International Writers Magazine: Review
The Rapture by Liz Jensen
Bloomsbury Paperbacks Jan 2010
The Rapture to date has had very good reviews. I find this surprising. But then, I have a degree in earth science, I have been a member of the evangelical community church and have had electro-convulsive-therapy, so I do feel ideally placed to offer some observations. Perhaps though, these experiences should preclude me from both reading and offering my thoughts on the basis that I might be inclined to be vituperative.
Matt Lauer an American TV pundit once asked John Grisham in an interview, whether his latest story was a little far-fetched, to which Grisham replied, ‘It’s already happened.’ With even a few emails from renowned scientists, Liz Jensen must know that her story isn’t even a little far fetched, it is far fetched to the point of hilarity. In fact, I was happy to bite my lip in the name of fiction, until I read the in the acknowledgements … ‘that anyone wishing to explore the science further, I [she] recommend the website www.realclimate.org’.
I suppose that the core of my irritation in regard to this novel surrounds a recurring theme in Jensen’s novels – that of the disingenuousness of evangelical Christianity, a theme I am in total agreement with. But to set such a realistic aspiration within a plot of such ridiculous arrant nonsense is itself disingenuous.
The central plot of the novel is that a young girl appears to be addicted to electricity, and whilst high on a fix (administered via ECT) can feel vibrations that enable her to predict the very day that storms, earthquakes and other natural phenomena occur anywhere on the globe; a hurricane in Rio, a tornado in Aberdeen, an earthquake in Istanbul. Oh, but it doesn’t end there. If one of your characters is ‘supergirl’, why not get her to shunt other aspects of storyline: So she can also tell when people have had sex, the sexual orientation of people, and she can also predict very early pregnancy. She also predicts some sort of strange methane hydrate convulsion that sets in motion huge tsunamis, and fiery seas, which the evangelicals believe is the end of the world.
‘Well it’s a fiction thriller’, I hear you say. But the ability to predict anything that happens on and in the earth and in human beings after a current of electricity is passed through your brain; this surely is the genre of fantasy rather than realistic thriller. But I suppose Frazer Melville BA, MA, PhD referred to, almost to the point of boredom as ‘the physicist’ as the scientific foil, surely would be able to offer some explanation. Not with those qualifications he won’t, as the only physics he would have done are with the rowing club.
Don’t get me wrong. Liz Jensen is both a professionally accomplished writer, and a fantastic storyteller; telling a story after some extensive scientific research, and I also applaud her attempt in an area of complex science. I just wish that she had a scientific agent or someone who could have prevented her from jumping off the solid ground of credibility. Ironically, creationism was not the first concept rocked by Lyell and Darwin, it was catastrophism, on which the book is based – but lets not go there. If you are a complete science illiterate and love a compelling story with a dramatic climax, then I doubt you will find a better novel. But if you have a science GCSE; know that it is impossible to spot a friend on the opposite side of even a small stadium without binoculars; and know roughly how many volts it takes to burn human flesh, then please get your kicks elsewhere.
© Paul Valentine Jan 23rd 2010
Paul is studying for his MA in Creative Writing at a University on the South Coast of the UK