A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray.

I have just finished reading this book and what a beautifully written novel it is. It is full of emotion, humour, insight and beautifully crafted characters that you can’t help falling in love with.

This story is about the Bradley family. They are devout Mormons with Ian, the father, being a bishop who is relied upon heavily by members of the church. His wife Claire helps keep the house running as smoothly as possible with their four children- Zippy, Al, Jacob and Issy. Right at the beginning of this book, before the tragedy occurs, it is clear that Claire is struggling to accept that her husband’s job requires him often putting others first. She is battling with feelings of resentment as Ian will visit church members who are in need rather than be there for Jacob’s birthday party.

Then the unthinkable happens and Issy dies very suddenly which leaves the family in shock and trying to make sense of it all in their own ways whilst trying to rely upon their faith to see them through.

Throughout the first few months of the grieving process we follow the family through the chapters in this book. There are lots of age ranges within this book from the youngest family member Jacob who’s struggling to accept that Issy isn’t coming back- at church they are always talking about miracles and resurrections so why can’t the same happen with Issy? Then there’s Ian, the head of the family, who finds himself having to take over a lot of Claire’s responsibilities as she takes to bed (Issy’s bed) as the grief is too much for her to bare but Ian doesn’t want people to know how much she is struggling, what if they find out and take his position away from him? Zippy is 16 and questioning her religion, her faith wavers, she’s experimenting with boys, she wants to go to parties, she’s at that awkward stage in her life which is made even more complicated with her religion wavering and with losing her sister. Al, worries that he is the cause of his mother’s inability to get out of bed, he begins to get into fights, he’s confused, he’s angry and he finds it hard to express it.

What I found most impressive about this book is just how different the family members are in their ages and personalities yet Carys Bray has created them brilliantly, really enabling us to see through the eyes of such diverse characters. I think this is a really clever skill to have. There wasn’t one character that I thought was lacking, they were all really well formed and I did get the sense of the family as a whole.

I think it is difficult to write about grief without the book being too heavy and being nothing but misery but there is a lot more to this story and it’s definitely crafted well so you don’t feel like it’s too heavy. Yes there are moments that are upsetting and made me think about what it’s like to lose someone, what happens after death and so forth but there were also lots of really tender moments, amusing narrative and a real sense of warmth as the family tried to still function despite everything.

I found the book really interesting, the element of religion within the family and how different members of the family questioned their faith after Issy’s death,it was fascinating to learn of some of the teachings of the Mormon church and think about how it fits into society today, how challenging it must be for teenagers especially to conform at times when society has so many pressures.

The best part of the book for me was the way that Claire was portrayed. Often when you read books about losing a child, the mother tends to put on a brave face and somehow carry on and within a few weeks has moved on hugely but Claire’s grief felt very real. Her inability to cope, to not want to get out of bed or even care about communicating with her children was exactly what despair and loss feels like. I could definitely relate to how she was unable to see a reason to eat, get up, make an effort and how nobody in her family could persuade her otherwise. This is what complete despair is like and I felt very moved by how Ian was still desperately in love with her and wanting to be there for her, not rushing her to get on with life.

I think this is a wonderful book, it’s a very difficult subject matter which may be too much for some but I found that it offers brilliant insight into a family and how it functions despite a huge loss and it’s amazing how well this is created despite the family members varying so much in age. What an exceptional skill to have as an author.

This is the first story of Carys Bray’s that I have read but I am definitely going to be reading more and do highly recommend this.

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