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.