Book Review: The Angels of L19

angels of L19

The Angels of L19, by Jonathan Walker, tells the story of a group of Liverpool teenagers who attend a Christian church. In many ways they are typical of their age group, harbouring interests in popular music and the uniforms worn by youth subcultures they aspire to join. What sets them apart is the faith they have in a deity – and the questions this raises. If the bible recounts events that actually happened, why do modern day Christians not experience anything similar?

Two key characters are Robert and Tracey, who live in adjacent houses. Robert’s home life is grey and stifling. He is cared for by his aunt and uncle but their strict rules offer little in the way of love. He met Tracey, aged seven, when his mother was still alive – as a family they would visit. The youngsters grew closer when Robert moved in permanently, and now Tracey’s mother is dead too.

Tracey has always been a part of their evangelical church, her father being a founding member. She tries to live by its tenets but still finds questions arise around the detail. She attends bible study groups where debates about doubts and the devil provide few concrete answers. Robert is a ‘born again’ Christian, coming to the faith during a church camp the previous summer. His peers struggle to understand his strange behaviour and why Tracey remains so supportive.

When Robert becomes aware of a presence, he ponders if it could be an angel. In biblical times the faithful were visited by such beings who relayed messages from God. Nevertheless, he is wary of sharing what he sees, even with Tracey. His world grows ever more disturbed when the presence is joined by a naked girl that appears and talks only to him – and starts making demands.

The unfolding tale has the backdrop of Thatcher and Hatton – their clashes over funding for the city. The young people, while aware of political turmoil, have more insular concerns. Robert suffers disturbing dreams that he struggles to divorce from reality. They feature Tracey – and she is having them too.

The author builds a backstory for Robert that adds an element of ambiguity around whether what is happening to him is real or imagined. What, after all, are the facts of any individual’s reality – faith also requires belief without proof. Captured skilfully is the underlying, if often suppressed, complex dissonance within a church community. This is not confined to its younger congregation.

The plot may push at times into horror fantasy but the pacing and literary quality provide an engaging story that cannot be pigeon holed. The denouement offers a window into Tracey and Robert’s futures. The cyclical final chapter, however, left me with more questions than answers.

A beautifully produced book from a new press that aims to publish ‘core literary fiction’ because ‘books which are merely excellent can find themselves homeless.’ The Angels of L19 is certainly remarkable, and I mean that as praise.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Weatherglass Books.

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Book Review: The Boy Who Loved Rain

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The Boy Who Loved Rain, by Gerard Kelly, is a story about parenting, teenagers and the difficulties inherent in communicating with those we love. When the truth will hurt it can be hard to confront, especially when a lie has been perpetuated for many years.

Fourteen year old Colum suffers from recurring nightmares that he cannot explain. He feels numb, depressed and harbours suicidal thoughts. Despite an apparently loving and happy childhood he now feels alienated from his parents who put his moods and silence down to his age. His father has immersed himself in his work while his mother struggles to cope with their sullen, uncommunicative son. When serious issues at school are brought to her attention she recognises that he needs help but will not defy her husband’s wish to keep things within their church.

The church, religion, is a recurring theme that I felt was overdone. Having established its importance in the lives of several of the characters and the subsequent impact on their decision making I felt that it should have been given less prominence. I am now aware that this book is published by┬áLion Hudson who are ‘committed to publishing quality literature which is true to the Christian faith’ but I read it unaware of this, regarding it as I would any other work of fiction.

Putting that aside, the depiction of this troubled family was credible and universal. There were interesting issues of nature versus nurture to explore as well as the selective blindness that can occur when parents see their child as all he has been rather than what he is now. The apathy, simmering resentment and truculence of the teenager were well described.

I was less impressed with the subsequent mellowing of the boy as the friend and counsellor gradually uncovered and addressed the issues that were causing so much pain. I felt that, by the end, the teenage character had become a little too much how adults would like children to be. The development of the parents as the story progressed seemed more believable. I would be interested to know if the psychological issues explored had any basis in scientific fact.

The story is nicely written with plenty of food for thought about how we see ourselves and those we are close to. It will perhaps appeal more though to those who choose to live their lives by the tenets of the Christian church to which the key characters ascribe.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Lion Hudson.