The main reason I read The Friday Gospels was because author Jenn Ashworth was speaking with Peggy Riley at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Aside from that, I had never heard of Ashworth, though this is her third book. It seems that her talent has not really crossed the ocean over to North America. Her books maybe a struggle to find over there, but if The Friday Gospels is anything to judge by, it is worth the effort of seeking her books out.
I really liked The Friday Gospels. It contains a number of elements that I covet in a good novel: family tensions and crises, odd characters, and struggles with faith and identity. The story takes place over the course of a single day in which Gary, the adored son, is to return from his Mormon mission in Utah. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different of the family – Jeannie the youngest child who idolizes Gary, Julian the oldest son who has turned his back on Mormonism, Pauline the proud mother, Martin the indifferent dad who is looking to leave the family, and Gary who views himself as a failure. Perhaps the most astounding thing about Ashworth’s writing is how each character has a truly distinctive voice, character and point of view.
The novel was a fast read. It seems that each character has a crisis of some sort that comes to a head as they are waiting for Gary to arrive. I do not want to give too much away, but as as you read further more of each characters’ struggle is revealed and it makes the book hard to put down.
Ashworth, who is startlingly young, was raised a Mormon in England. Although she is no longer a member of the faith, her experiences and exposure to the intricacies of Mormonism certainly inform The Friday Gospels. During her talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival she spoke of the differences between Mormons in America and Britain. The characters she portrays in her novel reflect some of these differences. Mormons in Britain are much more concerned with conformity because the community is so small. The influence of community has a greater bearing on your family life.
Who would like this book? One of the reasons I was attracted to The Friday Gospels is because I enjoy novels that deal with struggles of faith and religion. In particular, I liked the insight it gave into Mormonism outside of the United States. In North America I think we have a fairly rigid view of Mormons. We see them either as a polygamous cult as portrayed salaciously in the media or as the conservatively dressed proselytizers who come knocking on our doors. This mold is also broken by Elders, another Mormon focused novel that i recently reviewed.