'The Offering' by Grace McCleen has been my breakfast book for a few weeks. I am not sure if I liked it. No, I didn't. It was well written but too much about the story made me angry and frustrated. It is about a young girl and her parents who travel to live on an island, making a new start and hoping to proselytise their own brand of fundamentalist christianity. It made me angry in the same way that 'Song for Issy Bradley' did; that such dogmatic faith does something damaging to a child's understanding of the world and their sense of safety in it. In both stories we have a child who thinks that god will help them if only they believe hard enough, or in this case, if they make a large enough sacrifice. Madeline is telling her story from a future in a mental hospital, where she has been for twenty years. A new psychiatrist is helping her to revisit untouched memories using hypnosis. Along with the past we also learn about the life she lives now; institutionalised and controlled, so in some ways not so different from her childhood. With parents who are wrapped up very much in their own concerns she spends a lot of time alone and is forced to rely on her own resources to make sense of life. She discovers masturbation and thinks it is the religious experience that she has been searching for. Her mother's decline into depression and her father's unemployment and alcoholism bring things to a crisis point where Madeline thinks that she is the one who must take drastic action to call on god to save the family.
I felt there were too many unanswered questions and loose ends in the story. And all the other characters in the story are underdeveloped and somewhat one dimensional. Maybe five minutes over breakfast is not the best way to read a book, the story becomes too disjointed. I'll leave you with this quote; they buy an ancient mouldering farmhouse and their precious bibles catch book mites. I think there is maybe some symbolism going on here:
"At the bottom of the garden the book pile gathered fungi. Foxgloves took up residence there; nettles, dock leaves. One afternoon, when clouds were flying and the garden was full of breezes and watery rustlings, I rummaged with a stick until i found the big bible. Snails had made shining paths across the cover and woodlice fell from the spine. Instead of gold leaf there was a spattering of white spots at the edges, and the pages were, if possible, even more wrinkled.
My arms and legs felt so heavy that I sat down on the ground. After a moment, I tried to pull back the greaseproof page from the picture of the garden. It tore wetly. A curtain had been rent. The Most Holy was now Most Ordinary. Beneath the veil were no longer sword and tree, serpent and errant humans, but an old world slowly dissolving." (p.139)