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The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth - Review

Thursday, December 3, 2020

When I read Fell by Jenn Ashworth last summer, I read a bit about her other books and liked the sound of The Friday Gospels, which is about a Mormon family living in Chorley near the site of the Mormon Temple there. I bought it on eBay shortly thereafter, but I've taken a while to get round to it. I don't know what my reading habits are currently, but I'm kind of going with whatever I feel like reading. So I picked this up. Jenn is an ex Mormon herself so she knows what she's writing about, and I think that shows. 

It's set on one day in the life of the Leeke family, and we see narrative points of view from all of them. It is the day that middle child Gary is due to return from Utah, where he has been serving his two year mission. He has been delayed because of the eruption of that Icelandic volcano (remember that!) but after several days awake in airports, he's finally on the plane home. He is going home to his older brother Julian, who is no longer an active Mormon, his younger sister Jeannie, who is fourteen and still in school, and his parents Pauline and Martin. Pauline is disabled, and a pretty pious Mormon. Martin is less active too, preferring to work Sundays, and he is having some kind of emotional affair with a younger woman called Nina. 

Jeannie's points of view are heartbreaking. I really liked her and was definitely on her side. We see her at school, trying to fit in amongst non-Mormons. We see her at Sunday school, being taught a horrible lesson about being 'soiled' goods. It's really Jeannie's book, I think. 

Martin is the family's main earner, and is struggling to keep the family afloat. He's resentful of the new things Pauline wants, like new curtains and a sofa. He's resentful he has to pay tithing to a church he doesn't attend and barely believes in. He is supposed to take board off Julian, but hasn't done. And he has been training his dog, Bovril, alongside Nina and her dogs in the part most days. He is about to leave the family for Nina, but none of that goes to plan. 

Pauline is disabled, and quite a pious Mormon. We see her with other Mormon ladies, Maggie and Ruth. The three gossip about everyone they know. Pauline tries to outdo Maggie but constantly feels like her family doesn't in any way match up, especially as Martin rarely goes to church and Julian has fallen away. Ruth has a small daughter, Angela, who is disabled. Pauline gave Jeannie some money to go to the shop and buy special food for Gary coming home, but because of what Jeannie's got going on, she doesn't go, meaning Pauline has to venture out for the first time in two years. All hell breaks loose while she is out, leading to quite a transformation for Pauline. I was very ambivalent about Pauline's narrative - in one way I really liked it, but in another I felt it was very clumsily done. I actually felt like that about a lot of the book - it's a bit heavy handed which I dislike. 

Julian is a strange man. He actually read like he was autistic to me (he's bothered by things like the electric hum of the lights). He is twenty six and has been saving up wages ever since he started working in the garage he works in ten years ago. He is planning to leave the family, to get away with the money he's got saved. He wants to take Angela, Ruth's little girl, with him. There didn't seem to be any actual reason for this, and it's very creepy. Julian has fallen out with the Mormon church and very much looks down on the believers he deals with. Julian is very dislikeable but I did actually want him to succeed in a couple of ways. 

Lastly there's Gary. If you're not aware, many Mormon teenagers - mostly boys but increasingly girls too - serve a two year mission when they're 18 or 19. The idea is to recruit as many new Mormons as possible and get them baptised. Gary was sent to Salt Lake City, which is obviously already full of Mormons, and in two years he has not managed to recruit one soul. Gary has a terrible stammer, and on the plane on the way home he meets James, and tries to talk to him about the Church of Latter Day Saints in a last ditch attempt to recruit at least one person in his mission. I liked Gary, I felt sorry for him. 

I didn't dislike the book per se, but I found it really dense and quite hard to read. I was glad when I finished it and I'm giving it three out of five. 

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