Book review: A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

The book:
A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray
First published: 2014 by Hutchinson
Number of pages: 416
My copy: Library

issyThe blurb:

This is the story of what happens when Issy Bradley dies.

It is the story of Ian – husband, father, maths teacher and Mormon bishop – and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife Claire’s lonely wait for a sign from God and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with what’s happened.

It is the story of the agony and hope of Zippy Bradley’s first love. The story of Alma Bradley’s cynicism and reluctant bravery. And it is the story of seven-year-old Jacob. His faith is bigger than a mustard seed, probably bigger than a toffee bonbon and he’s planning to use it to mend his broken family with a miracle.

My thoughts:

I was aware of this book as it has been nominated for various awards, and I’ve seen posters in tube stations, but I didn’t really know much about the actual story when I picked it up in my local library. I realised early on that it would be a difficult read in terms of the storyline, but I still found it very easy to get into and read half the book in just a day. The third person points of view switch around a lot from the parents, Ian and Claire, to all of the three children. All the characters have distinct voices, and getting the range of viewpoints and finding out how tragedy has affected them and their different ways of coping worked really well and gave the novel a multi-layered feel.

The family are Mormons and this pervades the whole novel, and we find out how all the characters use their faith to cope with the tragedy – and often struggle with their faith in the face of what has happened to them. I found this really interesting, and the strict way of life of the family, imposed on them by the Church, was also interesting and I felt I learnt a lot. There were some small details that shed light on different aspects of their faith – such as Claire’s longing for a forbidden cup of tea and Alma’s embarrassment about his name. It is also humorous at times, and the novel gently pokes fun at religion, but in a subtle and funny way.

While it is easy to sympathise with the children and Claire, Ian is a much more tricky character to get your head around, as his ways of coping, and apparent lack of sympathy for the rest of his family, seem cruel at times but make him probably the most interesting character in the book. I also liked that the book wasn’t completely positive or negative about religion – it leaves you to make your own judgements.

This is not an action-packed book. There are no twists and turns, and really very little happens. I must admit that I did find it was getting a bit repetitive about three quarters of the way through, but that didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the novel, which I found to be sad, funny and enlightening all at once.

My rating: 8 out of 10

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