I’m currently on a mission to get through the books I have acquired over the years and have not yet read, and A Song For Issy Bradley has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I was not expecting much from it, not being a huge fan of contemporary fiction, but this book blew me away. I found it to be really moving, and couldn’t put it down.
Issy Bradley is the youngest daughter of Ian and Claire. The Bradley family also includes daughter Zipporah, or ‘Zippy’, and sons Alma and Jacob, and the family are devout Mormons. The book opens on Jacob’s birthday, and mother Claire is struggling to prepare for the birthday party she will throw for him as Ian is away on church business. She is so busy that she doesn’t have enough time to check on Issy, who has been feeling poorly, and by the time she does, she realises that Issy’s illness is far worse than the flu. Before she has time to process it, Issy is in intensive care with meningitis, and despite the family’s prayers, Issy passes away.
The rest of the book follows each member of the Bradley family as they grieve, or struggle to grieve, in their individual ways. Ian feels comforted by his faith, and his confidence that he will be reunited with his daughter in the afterlife helps him to continue with his normal life. Meanwhile, Claire cannot see a way to move on, and Zippy has to step into her mother’s shoes, cooking and cleaning while dealing with confusion over dating in a religious setting. Alma’s love of football is tainted by memories of playing with Issy, and Jacob is faithful that God will answer his prayers to bring Issy back. Each chapter follows a different family member in turn, and follows their individual storylines in conjunction with their grief for Issy.
I loved each character’s story, which I think is a rare feat in a multiple-POV narrative. I think this was assisted by the fact that each character had such a different tone. Jacob’s belief that he can resurrect Issy is a humorous break from Claire’s incredibly sorrowful chapters. Zippy and Alma are struggling with challenges outside of Issy’s death, but in fear of adding to their family’s problems, they try to deal with it themselves. Ian and Claire’s relationship is crumbling under the strain of the loss and the now evident differences in their faith. The novel is a really beautiful and moving look at how a family deals with loss, individually and as a family, coming together to put the pieces back together.
Carys Bray’s writing is simple but not basic, with the emotions that the characters feel being clear and moving. I think she was really good at giving each character a strong tone that stood out from the others. Alma is angry and resentful of the way his father’s religion has crushed his childhood dreams of being a footballer, Zippy is growing into a woman and Jacob is naive and sweet. This made it easy to deliver into the characters of the different narrators, their lives and their minds, and to really understand them.
I also found the insight into the Mormon faith and lifestyle fascinating, and the different perspectives, from those who were confident in their faith and found peace and comfort in the teachings, to those who struggled with it and those who altogether turned away from it. In my opinion, it was a delicate and subtle insight into religious life and the challenges that come with growing up and living in a religious community.
Overall, I really loved A Song for Issy Bradley and thought it was truly moving. Despite the heavy subject matter, it was not difficult to get through, and the different characters narrating the story did not confuse or distract from the story.