The Rapture
Liz Jensen
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Buy *The Rapture* by Liz Jensen online

The Rapture
Liz Jensen
304 pages
August 2009
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Marie D. Jones's take on The Rapture.

Jensen’s sweeping apocalyptic novel is a cautionary tale told on a broad canvas that only a grand Hollywood producer could manufacture. Amid hurricanes and cyclones, earthquakes and tidal waves, a fallen Christ and ominous premonitions of “the rapture,” this is a cautionary tale of a planet in peril and an exploration of the sheer force of belief matched with the incapability of true faith.

Three damaged souls are framed against the very real dangers of climate change as art therapist Gabrielle Fox starts work at the Oxsmith Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital in Hadport, Southern England. Ostensibly for a six-month posting, Gabrielle is only at Oxsmith two weeks when she is assigned to Bethany Krall, an violent and intractable teenager who stabbed her mother to death with a screwdriver in a frenzied and unexplained attack while Bethany’s father, an evangelical preacher, was away at a prophecy conference.

In the first of her sessions with Gabrielle, Bethany is nasty and belligerent, almost violent; she behaves like she’s up for a fight and looks like she’s more trouble than she’s worth. Lately she’s also been undergoing a series of ECT - electronic shock therapy - interventions, which have begun to stimulate a strange preoccupation with climate change, chemical pollution, and devastatingly bleak apocalyptic scenarios.

Although the treatments make Bethany “feel more alive then ever before,” she continually refuses to discuss her relationship with her parents and the catastrophic events that bought her to Oxsmith. Gabrielle is similarly enthralled and repelled by this damaged young girl with her well-informed psychotic fantasies, biblical outpourings, and terrifying propensity for sudden extreme violence.

Still reeling from a tragic car accident sixteen months ago which left her paralyzed and unable to walk, Gabrielle is thrust into a situation in which she is least able to manage. Oxsmith’s officious clinical director, Dr. Sheldon-Gray, refuses to listen to Gabrielle’s dire warnings about Bethany’s “electric energy” and her portents of doom. Help unexpectedly comes from Frazer Melville, a Scottish physicist who is also drawn to Bethany’s strange intractability, her militant cynicism and power to predict natural catastrophes.

In a twist of fate, Frazer finds himself surprisingly attracted to Gabrielle. Their ensuing affair is absurdly romantic; while Gabrielle’s broken body is “tumbled into a turmoil of wanting,” both find themselves spiritually connected to Bethany as she “registers her stuff” of seas burning and sheets of fire. In her world, all of humanity die a horrible death and whole coasts are washed away. Are these drug-induced visions? Daydreams? Or are the prophecies more metaphorical?

The Rapture almost feels like two different stories. When Bethany’s apocalyptic promotions become real, Jensen no longer focuses on the more intimate dramas of Bethany, Gabrielle and Frazer, choosing instead to play out her ambitious end-of the-world drama against a vast landscape of desolation and runaway global warming on a scale beyond anyone’s worst nightmare.

The scenes of world-wide decimation undoubtedly have an epic and cinematic grandeur as Fraser and his scientist friends race against time to stop the full force of nature. More compelling - and better executed - are those moments in the first half of the novel featuring the psychological exchanges between Bethany and Gabrielle, the crackling emotional tension between them adding a critical depth to this otherwise predictable story of a world on the brink of destruction.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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