These hot sunny days are ideal for sitting reading a good book in a shady corner of the garden.
Ironically the title of the book I am reading does not reflect the kind of weather we’ve been having. “In the Days of Rain” by Rebecca Stott is a recently published memoir, based on the life of the author growing up within the cruel cult of the Exclusive Brethren, and the fear of approaching End Times and judgment. As her father lay dying he asked her to finish writing down his story of their family living within the confines of the EBs, and their escape from it. But it was not an easy task. Rebecca’s father ran out of time as he tried to negotiate the “thicket” of what happened in his past, and capture it in a way which made sense. And Rebecca too struggled with the material, her own memories, and her father’s writing stashed in a box under her bed for years. Her own children helped her begin to sort it all, and gradually find a way through the forest of the past events.
Her memoir is a beautifully written and crafted attempt to make sense of what cannot truly be understood. How can anyone undesrstand the mixed motives and complex beliefs of the well meaning and decent people who her parents had once loved, but who drove so many to despair and even death. Perhaps I can understand more than many of her readers, because I, like Rebecca, was born into a family of fourth generation members of the Exclusives. Her story is not my story, but I enjoyed her interpretation of the things that happened, and it was a relief to read descriptions of behaviour and emotions so recognisable to me. Sometimes her memoir reads like a novel, sometimes it’s more like poetry.
Listening to the inspirational Hilary Mantel offering the first of her Reith Lectures, “The Day Is for the Living”, I was struck by her comments about history, and our attempts to capture the past, in fiction, drama, and other creative writing. She said “It is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses, combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them. It’s no more than the best we can do, and often it falls short of that”.
But even so Hilary Mantel’s best attempts to capture the past are reckoned as pretty good, and, in my opinion, so is Rebecca Stott’s. I am looking forward to Hilary’s next Reith lecture, and I am taking advantage of the hot sunny weather to reread “In the Days of Rain”.