review by Maryom
A Song for Issy Bradley is the story of a Mormon family trying to come to terms with grief following the sudden death of their 4 year old daughter -
- Dad, Ian, a bishop in the Mormon church finds consolation and strength through his faith. He firmly believes that he will meet Issy again in Heaven and all he must do is continue in his faith
- Mum, Claire, who converted in order to marry him, cannot cope at all; she finds Mormon values too cold to help her. Swallowed by her overwhelming grief, she takes refuge on Issy's bunk bed and refuses to get up again.
- Their teenage children, daughter Zippy (Zipporah) and son Alma are already struggling with their faith. They miss Issy desperately but both want to be 'normal', to be allowed to behave as their friends do. Zippy despite being a firm believer in Mormon values wants to wear fashionable clothes, go to parties and be allowed to date boys. Alma just wants to play football.
- Only 7 year old Jacob can see a way to make everything right again - a miracle is needed to bring Issy back and he thinks he knows how to work one.
A Song for Issy Bradley is a stunning novel of death and life, faith and family, grief and hope. Knowing this was a book dealing with a child's death and the emotional impact on the family, I was half-expecting something totally depressing. It wasn't going to be like a murder-mystery where everyone achieves closure by the catching of the villain, and then gets back to their lives. This was going to be about 'real' people facing up to probably the most devastating thing that could happen to them. But as I read, I realised it wasn't going to be as devastatingly sad as I'd feared; though there are dreadfully dark moments, they're balanced with light and humour and, above all, love.
Throughout there's an amazing attention to the little things that make up life. It starts with the lead-up to Issy's death, capturing the awful ease with which a serious illness can be ignored until it's too late. The hustle and bustle of a normal day compounded by a houseful of extra children at a birthday party and Ian rushing off to help a dying church member. I found myself willing Claire to notice while there was still time to act even though I knew it was pointless.
Ian frustrated me throughout - he's always rushing around and putting others' needs before his own family's and so secure in his own faith but can't see that this isn't enough for Claire.
Teenagers always bear the brunt of any perceived 'weirdness' in their parents - and Zippy and Alma have more than an average share. Saddled with odd names, bound by the restrictions of Mormon behaviour, fitting in with their peers at school was never going to be that easy, and it isn't even possibly to argue with parents who cliam the support of God.
Jacob's faith in his miracle-working is as heart-breaking as Issy's death. He is SO confident that he can do it - with that seriousness that young children have in their approach to things - but we know it's not going to work and he's going to be devastated all over again.
Although she's written many short stories, including a prize-winning collection, this is Carys Bray's first full length novel - and it was hard at times to believe it was a debut. Ultimately hopeful and life-affirming, this is a 'must-read' that's straight onto my Picks of the Year list.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Hutchinson
Genre - adult, literary fiction, bereavement
Winner of the Authors' Club First Novel Award
Shortlisted for Costa First Novel Award
Longlisted for Desmond Elliott Prize 2015
Richard and Judy Summer2015 Book Club