The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth

The Friday GospelsThe Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Friday Gospels, a story of a Mormon family in Lancashire, England, on the eve of their adult son’s homecoming from his mission, is a beautiful, searing, look inside the heads of five people growing and trying to make sense of the world and their place in it.
The Friday Gospels is a very different novel than A Kind of Intimacy, which I read earlier this year and absolutely loved. A Kind of Intimacy is the chilling story of a woman who appears almost normal at first glance, but who, we discover, over the course of the novel, is something else entirely. It is psychological suspense at its very best, and a brilliant character study. And the writing itself, the way in which Jenn Ashworth subtly and masterfully reveals what is really going on, is one of the greatest strengths of the novel.
The Friday Gospels is in some ways gentler in tone and focus, with none of the “aha!” moments which make A Kind of Intimacy so much fun. But rather than being disappointed by this, I found myself impressed that the author could write two such different, brilliant, novels.
The main characters in The Friday Gospels are Gary, the missionary returning home from America, Julian, the troubled oldest brother who still lives at home, Jeannie, the teenager struggling with a devastating secret, Martin, the husband who feels trapped, and Pauline, the nagging wife and mother who suffers from a mysterious condition that leaves her incontinent and mostly wheelchair bound.
The chapters are told in the alternating voices of the different family members, and Jenn Ashworth excels at creating distinct voices for each of her characters. I found some of the characters (and therefore, some of the chapters) more compelling than others. But I felt that Ashworth’s narrative choice was an integral part of the story itself; the reader was privy to the inner thoughts of each character, the things that they were unable to communicate to each other, and which were tearing them apart.
Ashworth spoke with Mormons and also ex-church members before writing this book, and her research shows. The Friday Gospels gives fascinating insight into a way of life that most people know little about. One of the greatest accomplishments of the novel, to my mind, is that Ashworth is able to walk the fine line of not judging the religion one way or another. She avoids stereotypes, and all her characters are complex, and therefore, impossible to pigeonhole.
Another strength of the novel is that Ashworth successfully weaves the disparate plot elements into a satisfying and believable culmination. And furthermore, I found it interesting how, despite some genuinely horrifying scenes in the novel, the story itself left me feeling tentatively, gently, hopeful.
In the same way that Ashworth is able to masterfully reveal horror behind apparent normality in A Kind of Intimacy, in The Friday Gospels, she hits a perfect pitch in which she is able to describe tragic events, and yet also, believably demonstrate that altruism, and hope, can exist in unexpected places.
I’ve often thought that whether a story leaves me feeling depressed or uplifted has more to do with the way it is told, than the actual events themselves. In The Friday Gospels, Ashworth is able to make us genuinely interested in deeply flawed characters, and to leave us feeling satisfied with a world which is still, ultimately inexplicable.
The Friday Gospels is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I look forward to reading and reviewing Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth in the near future.

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