A Song for Issy Bradley: Review

A Song for Issy Bradley: Review

A Song for Issy Bradley

Don’t read Issy Bradley on the bus. Or the tube, or on any form of transport that means you have to notice when to get off. That’s before you even take into consideration the fact that you will cry at some point during the time of reading. Fact.

(N.B. Issy dies right at the beginning. This isn’t a spoiler, but I realise that I take it for granted that you will know for the rest of the review, and there’s a chance you might not. So I thought I’d better say).

I, luckily, read it at home. Not quite in one huge swallow, but almost. It arrived in its massively gorgeous orange bubbled envelope during a particularly busy week when I had, amongst many other spinning plates, pressing edits on my own manuscript to do. I worked late then went to bed, thinking I’d just read a chapter. Maybe two. An hour and a half later, I had to force myself to put the book down.

And the next morning, I didn’t get dressed. I stayed in bed for a while, reading, then took the book with me while I had some breakfast, and then just sat and read, in my pyjamas, at times with one hand pressed to my mouth, every so often with tears running down my face. Now and again my children – who are, I should reassure you, perfectly capable of looking after themselves for a morning without parental input – would throw me a considering look and then get on with whatever they needed to do.

I emerged just after midday, to one of those reading-induced hangovers where you’re not quite sure where the book ends and real life begins. Claire – Issy’s mother – spends the majority of the book’s timeframe curled up in Issy’s bed, this being the only way she can deal with her grief. The story opens and closes with the section Footprints in the Sand, set in the present moment, where Claire walks down to the sea in her nightie after a dream of meeting the Lord,  and in the desperate hope that He will offer her some comfort. She ‘isn’t fussy, she’ll accept crumbs.’ I’m a mother. The thought of losing a child is something I try not to imagine. In reading, I was increasingly absorbed by Claire, by her inability to move or function, even when her other children desperately need her. Somehow, sitting at the kitchen table in my pyjamas at lunchtime, having pretty much ignored my own kids all morning, I had become Claire, just a little bit.

Issy Bradley isn’t a sobfest, though. It’s not one of those books which calculatingly plays on your emotions to wring out every last drop of feeling. There is much light and dark as the story unfolds through the eyes of all of the family: the father, Ian, and the siblings Zippy, Alma and Jacob, as well as Claire. And Issy’s spirit runs through the narrative like a fragile thread, forever just out of reach. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the ‘other’ world of a Mormon family, showing just how hard it is to juggle the conflicts of faith and life in twenty-first century England. (For a companion read, try Jenn Ashworth’s The Friday Gospels).

Amongst the supporting characters, I particularly liked Brother Rimmer, an older member of the church whom Alma has been sent to help out with grass cutting when he’d rather be playing football. Physically gross and known as the man who ‘on Fast and Testimony Sundays…likes to wobble up to the pulpit and say weird shit’, he sets Alma to work on the restoration of the handcart he made to be ready for the call back to Zion. Through a practical faith that shines in contrast to the empty platitudes offered by many of the other church members, he quietly gives Alma the support he needs to emerge from his own particular nightmare.

In short, this is a gorgeous book, fully deserving of the place it’s had on all sorts of ‘best book’ lists over the last few months. Read it.


A Song for Issy Bradley will be launched on 21st June.

You can find out more about Carys Bray here

I interviewed Carys when her short story collection Sweet Home was published, and you can read that by clicking here

Follow Carys on Twitter here



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