Family and Death in Mormon Britain: Carys Bray’s “A Song for Issy Bradley”
A little girl lies dying in her bed as her family bustles about their individual activities. Once it’s too late, all of the other members of the family are left with reasons to blame themselves — any one of them could have made slightly different choices and prevented the child’s death. That’s the tragic opening of Carys Bray’s brilliant debut novel A Song for Issy Bradley.
I picked up this book — despite the fact that I generally don’t like reading about small children (or their parents) dying horrible, preventable deaths — because I was curious to read a tale of what it’s like to grow up Mormon in the UK. But the story of the child’s death is too real. It can easily happen that a million trivial details conspire to cause a profound and irreversible result.
After reading the first six chapters, my reaction was Wow. I wish I hadn’t read that. I wish I could unread that. But you can’t unread stuff, gentle reader! And the characters and their situations were so compelling that I couldn’t help but want to pick the book back up again the next day. I figured the bad part is done, so I might as well. 😉 And I’m glad I did.
Each chapter of A Song for Issy Bradley follows the perspective of one of the members of Issy Bradley’s family, each in turn. These perspectives are masterfully done: all very believable, each completely different from the others — and they fit together to form the complete picture of a family.
The British Mormon experience portrayed in this book is a fascinating parallel universe — one that’s not so different from the American “mission-field Mormon” experience. In both cases, there’s a natural incongruity in following the local religion of a distant region. When I was growing up, we had a restored Model-A Ford that we could theoritically drive to Missouri after the collapse of society (since it could theoretically run on ethyl alcohol; in Carys Bray’s story one character has a homemade hand-cart to load up for the same journey. Her character’s projected pilgrimage included a boat-trip across the Atlantic that mine didn’t, but, really, does that make it any more or less far-fetched? And some Mormon cultural items — like YW bridal fashion shows and chewed-gum object lessons — are independent of region.
Carys Bray’s novel A Song for Issy Bradley is quite a trip. I highly recommend it, as well as her award-winning short-story collection about parenting Sweet Home.