Jenn Ashworth, raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has finally written her Mormon novel. Continuing in the same brooding, uneasy vein as her first two books, A Kind of Intimacy and Cold Light, The Friday Gospels does not disappoint.
Ashworth has produced a darkly comic tale of northern suburbia, one that boasts a unique cast of characters and the kind of knuckle-chewing pathos that compels you to to devour it in one sitting.
The Leekes are a family of Lancastrian Mormons who are waiting for youngest son Gary to return, one Friday, from a two-year mission in Utah. His mum, Pauline, is frantically planning a homecoming casserole that will top all her previous efforts.
Self-confined to a wheelchair and increasingly obsessed with the need to keep up with the other church members, Pauline is too busy boasting about Gary to notice that the other family members aren’t quite as excited as she is.
While Pauline takes her homecoming plans to a police cell; daughter Jeannie is pregnant, oldest son Julian is plotting a sinister breakout and her husband Martin is attempting to romance a fellow dog breeder.
A darkly comic tale of northern suburbia... As the day progresses, the family take turns as narrator, with chapters from Gary’s disastrous plane journey home woven in. This is a book about the disillusionment of always having been told that the world makes sense – and then finding out just how messy it can be.
The Leeke family’s different reactions to this loss of certainty are perfectly nuanced. Any one of their revelations could destroy the family, and yet the five ongoing crises create a fragile balance as the day draws to an end.
The number of Big Issues under scrutiny in The Friday Gospels would overwhelm a less skillful novelist. Ashworth, however, has come into her own as a writer, and themes of religious hypocrisy, sexual repression, privacy, healthcare, petty tyrannies and humiliation are dispatched with style and confidence.
Ashworth displays impressive control of her narrative by keeping this plethora of disasters afloat; none of the storylines are allowed to overwhelm the others.
By not attempting to recap previous plot points or indulge in lengthy alternative readings, Ashworth has created a fantastically inflammable satire without sacrificing character voice or development.
Despite making it explicit that Gospels is not about her own family, Ashworth is bound to face questions about how closely fact and fiction are intermingled.
The fact that Ashworth can take a soundbite issue like Mormonism and write a funny, sinister and affectionate novel speaks to her skill as a writer. The Friday Gospels is an accomplished work of satire from one of the country’s most exciting young novelists.
The Friday Gospels was published on 17th January by Sceptre and is available in hardback from Amazon or your local independent bookshop, priced at £17.99. A Kindle version is also available, priced at £9.99.
Recommended for: Lovers of good satire (who should also check out our FBS literary agony aunts’ guide to women satirists, here).
Other recommended reading: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – another satirical novel about a family all pulling in different directions.
Beulah Maud Devaney