Thursday, March 24, 2016

Being Magdalene by Fleur Beale

Being Magdalene is the sequel to I am not Esther and I am Rebecca so there are some ***SPOILERS*** about what happened in the earlier books.  This is a story that makes the most sense when it is read from start to finish so I highly recommend that you start with I am not Esther and I am Rebecca before starting to read this review or Being Magdalene.

For the past few years Magdalene's family has slowly diminished as the younger members leave or are banished from their devout religious sect the Children of the Faith.  First they lost their oldest sister, then their oldest brother and cousin, and more recently one of her twin sisters fled instead of marrying their leader Elder Stephen.  It appears that their family is destined to shrink in the face of the increasingly strict and unreasonable demands of the Elders and their ever changing interpretation of the Rule that they all live by.  

Magdalene strives to be a seemly and godly girl, obeying the Rule - but she is also constantly on edge watching out for her youngest sister Zillah who is rebellious and struggles with the Rule.  It seems as though it is only Magdalene's hard work that keeps Zillah from getting in trouble with their parents, the Elders, and the other members of the Children of the Faith.  When one of the Pilgrim family once again draws the attention of the Elders it becomes clear that things are not as they should be for the Children of the Faith and the Pilgrim family is set on a course that can only lead to more heartache and struggles.  When she is pushed too far Magdalene makes a life changing decision, but her childhood has left a mark that won't be easily removed. 

I was not expecting a sequel to I am Rebecca so I was completely surprised to find a third book in the series, but having read Being Magdalene it feels like the series has finally reached a satisfying and realistic conclusion.  This series may be set in New Zealand and have a New Zealand "flavour" but there are fundamentalist religious groups and cults like the Children of the Faith all over the world, and the children who are raised in those communities loose everything if they strike out from their families and religion.  In many instances contact with the family is completely lost if people leave, the person leaving declared dead and forgotten to those left behind.  

I would think it was a little unusual for so many children from one family to leave/be banished like the Pilgrim family, but there are many parts of this story and this series that rings true.  I couldn't help but feel for Magdalene and her confusion and challenges when she leaves the Faith.  There was a strong rallying of the "cast" of the first two novels in this third installment, and all of them had their parts to play in the story of the Pilgrim family and their lives on the "outside".  This is a great series not because it is well and sensitively written (because it is), and not because it covers a somewhat taboo topic (religion is usually a no go for people), but because it is a New Zealand series that explores the complex relationship between families and families in intense situations.  There are echoes of the Brethren here and possibly Gloriavale so this is a very timely novel and series.

This is not an easy read because there are some very emotional scenes, and because there are some rather series mental health issues explored through two of the main characters.   This series wont appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend giving it a go if you want to read a series set in New Zealand that has real depth and character building.   

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

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