The Rapture, Liz Jensen’s seventh novel, is a tightly written ecological thriller following art therapist Gabrielle Fox as she tries to get her life back on track after a car accident which killed her adulterous lover and left her in a wheelchair.
It unfolds over one summer in the near future when the world is gripped by a series of hurricanes and earthquakes, and the temperature is steadily rising. Disturbing climatic events are mirrored by worldwide global unrest, a global crash, an ‘apocalyptically expanded’ middle-east war and wave after wave of conversions to an evangelical Christianity known as ‘The Rapture.’ Bad things are about to happen.
Gabrielle meanwhile starts a new job in a seaside psychiatric institution for teenagers. The damaged asked to heal the deranged: Gabrielle is assigned mother-murdering Bethany Krall. With her acid tongue and an uncanny knack for predicting ecological catastrophes, Bethany can barely contain her apocalyptic glee in fanciful descriptions of atoms popping and ‘seas burning, sheets of fire, whole coasts washed away. The glaciers melting like butter in a microwave’ but Gabrielle’s initial cynicism melts like the icebergs as one by one the predictions come to pass.
Should Gabrielle and her rapidly acquired mate (and physicist) Frazer Melville believe Bethany? Is the threat to the planet sufficient for them to risk their livelihoods, their reputations, even their lives?
As hurricane follows earthquake and Bethany’s ECT sharpened predictions move beyond any possibility of coincidence, Gabrielle and Frazer Melville reach out to people in the scientific community, to little effect. Bethany’s visions are increasingly apocalyptic, she sees ‘mosques, their domes popped open like puffballs, gape up at the sky’ before Istanbul is flattened and has disturbing visions of mining excavations, which have some role in the coming world-wide disaster, The Rapture. But is Bethany predicting these events or could she be causing them?
When Bethany is later abducted Gabrielle’s involvement is sealed, culminating in a twisted family car ride and memorable trip to the Olympic Stadium.
The Rapture moves along at a crackling pace and the central characterisations don’t suffer for it, though the peripheral characters felt like plot vehicles rather than people. Bethany, Gabrielle and Frazer are sharply observed, fragile and utterly engaging and Jensen’s ability to bring in Gabrielle’s jealousy and envy while confronting global annihilation, with an irritatingly psychic, psychotic teenager on hand was outstanding as well as very funny.
Any Cop?: The Rapture is an enjoyable eco-thriller that neatly side-steps the ridiculous and is an absorbing read to the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if becomes an equally absorbing film next summer.