The Rapture by Liz JensenThe Rapture by Liz Jensen

The Rapture

byLiz Jensen

Paperback | September 7, 2010

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That summer, the summer all the rules began to change, June seemed to last for a thousand years. The temperature was merciless: ninety-eight, ninety-nine, then a hundred in the shade. It was heat to die in, to go nuts or to spawn in. Old folks collapsed, dogs were cooked alive in cars, lovers couldn’t keep their hands off each other. The sky pressed down like a furnace lid, shrinking the subsoil, cracking concrete, killing shrubs from the roots up. In the parched suburbs, ice cream trucks plinked their baby tunes into streets that sweated tar. Down at the harbor, the sea reflected the sun in tiny, barbaric mirrors. Asphyxiated, you longed for rain. It didn’t come.
–from The Rapture by Liz Jensen


It’s a blazing hot summer in the not-too-distant future. Thirty-five-year-old psychologist Gabrielle Fox is painfully rebuilding her life after a terrible accident that has left her a paraplegic, and her lover dead. The effects of incapacitating memories and guilt have led to Gabrielle’s dismissal from her London job. Craving anonymity and a fresh start, she moves to the coastal town of Hadport and accepts the first post she is offered, as an art therapist at a lackluster institution for dangerously psychopathic teens.

Gabrielle’s predecessor is on emergency leave thanks to an unhealthy obsession with Bethany Krall, now Gabrielle’s patient. A punky and precocious wild child with matted hair and kohl-rimmed eyes, Bethany’s claim to fame is that she murdered her own mother with a screwdriver. Aside from a gift for rip-roaring verbal obscenities and a knack for intuiting the inner torments of strangers, Bethany has the uncanny ability to gleefully forecast the environmental catastrophes now befalling the earth at a terrifying rate. Though skeptical at first, Gabrielle finds herself preoccupied with Bethany, her alarm and fascination swelling with every accurate prediction.

Seeking a rational explanation, Gabrielle connects with the big-hearted Scottish geophysicist Frazer Melville, an expert on global weather patterns. Though Frazer is not able to give Gabrielle the easy answer she hopes for, she finds comfort in his presence, and perhaps even attraction. The two begin a tentative romance as Gabrielle realizes that the door to her sexual life may not be closed after all.

Meanwhile, the enormous human cost of each global cataclysm is tallied in advance by a jubilant Bethany, who likes to toss in a few snippets of scripture memorized at the knee of her father, the charismatic fundamentalist preacher Leonard Krall. Gabrielle suspects Krall of having more to do with his wife and child’s ruin than he admits to, but before she can fully investigate, she and Frazer must put their reputations on the line and find a way to warn humanity of the looming apocalypse.

Raved about in The Times as “an unputdownable eco-thriller” and already optioned for film by Warner Brothers, Liz Jensen’s The Rapture once again proves Jensen to be a master of page-turning suspense. Readers will be entertained by the pyrotechnics of this hugely intelligent and wholly original voice, while unnerved by the high-voltage ecological horror story that feels all too plausible in our time.

From the Hardcover edition.
Liz Jensen was born in Oxfordshire to an Anglo-Moroccan librarian mother and a Danish violin-maker father. She studied English at Somerville College, Oxford and worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and Taiwan, then as a TV and radio producer for the BBC in the UK.In 1987 Jensen moved to France where she worked as a sculptor and freelanc...
Title:The RaptureFormat:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 8.2 × 5.53 × 0.77 inPublished:September 7, 2010Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385667027

ISBN - 13:9780385667029


Rated 2 out of 5 by from Interesting but long winded This had a fascinating plot line that kept me reading despite the long and boring aspects of the novel. I loved Gabrielle's perspective on Bethany and how much she wanted to help her. I also really like her slow descent into "madness" by noticing the coincidences of Bethany's prophecies in her journal. I would love to read more stories with this "being able to tell the future" plot element. However the second half of the book lost me a bit. It becomes somewhat chaotic and disjointed and although I finished it, it was a struggle.
Date published: 2017-06-27

Read from the Book

ONEThat summer, the summer all the rules began to change, June seemed to last for a thousand years. The temperature was merciless: ninety-eight, ninety-nine, then a hundred in the shade. It was heat to die, go nuts or spawn in. Old folk collapsed, dogs were cooked alive in cars, lovers couldn’t keep their hands off each other. The sky pressed down like a furnace lid, shrinking the subsoil, cracking concrete, killing shrubs from the roots up. In the parched suburbs, ice cream trucks plinked their baby tunes into streets that sweated tar. Down at the harbor, the sea reflected the sun in tiny, barbaric mirrors. Asphyxiated, you longed for rain. It didn’t come.But other things came, seemingly at random. The teenage killer, Bethany Krall, was one of them. If I didn’t know, back then, that turbulence obeys specific rules, I know it now. During just about every one of those nights, I’d have dreams that were so vivid they felt digitally enhanced. Sometimes I could do more than just walk and run and jump. I could do cartwheels; I could practically fly. I’d be an acrobat, flinging my body across the empty air, then floating in the stratosphere like a Chagall maiden. Other times I’d find myself with Alex. He’d be throwing his head back to laugh, as if nothing had happened. Or we’d be having urgent sex, in a thrash of limbs. Or engaging in the other thing we’d so quickly become experts at: fighting. Viciously. Also as if nothing had happened.Then I’d wake. I’d lie there, my upper body still sweating, the mail-order fan strafing the air across my naked skin, and let the new day infiltrate in stages. The last stage, before I rose to wash and dress and fight my tangled hair, like someone emerging from a date-rape drugging, would be the one in which I’d dutifully count my blessings. This folksy little ritual stayed brief because the way I saw it, they didn’t add up to much.When the skies finally broke, it felt biblical, megalomaniacal, as though orchestrated from on high by an irate Jehovah. On the coasts, cliffs subsided, tipping soil and rubble and silt onto the beaches, where they lodged in defiant heaps. Charcoal clouds erupted on the horizon and massed into precarious metropolises of air. Out at sea, beyond the gray stone bulwarks of the port, zigzags of lightning electrocuted the water, bringing poltergeist winds that sucked random objects up to whirl and dump. Passionate gusts punched at the sails of moored boats and then headed inland, flattening corn, uprooting trees, smashing hop silos and storage barns, whisking up torn garbage bags that pirouetted in the sky like the ghostly spirits of retail folly. Maverick weather was becoming the norm across the globe: we’d all learned that by now, and we were already frustrated by its theatrical attention-seeking, the sheer woe of its extremes. Cause and effect. Get used to the way A leads to B. Get used to living in interesting times. Learn that nothing is random. Watch out for tipping point. Look behind you: perhaps it’s been and gone.Psychic revolution, worlds upended, interrogations of the status quo, the eternal proximity of hell: subjects close to my heart at this point. Popular wisdom declares that it’s a mistake to make major changes in the wake of a catastrophic event in your personal life. That you should stay close to your loved ones – or, in their absence, to those best placed and most willing to hold your hand through the horror-show of your new, reconfigured life. So why, in the aftermath of my accident, had I so obstinately done the opposite? I was so sure, when I made it, that my decision to quit London was the right one, arrived at after a cool mental listing of the pros and cons. But my Chagall-maiden dreams and the restlessness that infected me seemed evidence of another, less welcome possibility: that once again I had sabotaged my life – as thoroughly and as definitively as only a professional psychologist can. My brain, working overtime with denial, was a sick centrifuge operating at full tilt.In the mornings, the modest skyline of Hadport fizzes gently with coastal fog that, pierced by the first light, can take on a metaphysical cast. There’s a spritz of bright air meeting water, of delicate chemical auras dancing around one another before mingling and ascending to the stratosphere. Conservative-minded angels, conscious of their celestial pension constraints and forced to relocate, might choose a town like this to spend their sunset years. So might my once energetic and cultured father, if he’d kept his marbles long enough to leaf through brochures about retirement complexes, instead of Alzheimering his way into a nursing home to spend his waking hours watching Cartoon Network and drooling onto a plastic bib: as sorry an end for a former diplomat as can be imagined. If you venture out early enough you can taste the sharp tang of ozone in your mouth. “Decent parking,” my practical pre-la-la father would have said, if he’d accompanied me on my morning sorties along the gum-studded pavements of my new hometown. “Useful in your situation, Gabrielle.” Later in the day, his high opinion might downgrade itself a notch. Hadport, being near the Channel tunnel, has a high quota of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers: the bed-and-breakfast population, the shallow-rooted underclass about which the Courier opines on behalf of “heritage citizens” who have graduated from compassion fatigue to a higher realm of pathological resentment that the paper’s editorials refer to as justified indignation. As the day rolls itself out, the trash cans fill and then erupt with Starbucks cups, gossip magazines, buckled beer cans, burger cartons gaping open like polystyrene clams: the husks of what nourishes the British soul. With dusk come mangy foxes, slinking out to scavenge in the drilling heat.In my new life, I spend most weekdays two kilometers outside town, beyond a network of clogged arterial roads and mini-rotaries. Skirt the brownfield site along East Road, past the Sleepeezee warehouse, the Souls Harbour Apostolic Church, the fuel cell plant, and a construction rumored to be generating a pioneer high-rise pig farm, turn right by the giant tower that, from a certain angle, appears to straddle, rodeolike, the World of Leather, and you’ll spot a discreet signpost to my place of work.Somebody should probably have taken a wrecking ball to it long ago. Built in the early twentieth century, the white mansion, seen through the electrified perimeter fence, resembles a decrepit cruise ship marooned among clusters of monkey puzzles, cypress, and spiky palms: Edwardian, Gulf Stream trees. It was once a hotel for convalescents prescribed sea air, but now its white-brick facade and scattered outbuildings are zigzagged with cracks like ancient marzipan. Wisteria and honeysuckle meander up wrought-iron balconies, trellises, and gazebos blistered by rust. You might hope to find Sleeping Beauty in there, on display in a glass case, somewhere just beyond Reception. But instead, you’ll be entering a museum display of dados, cornices, and ceiling roses barnacled to peeling plasterwork. The building manufactures its own air, air that has not quite caught up with the scented-candle culture of modern times. Forest Glade room freshener predominates, struggling to mask deeper strata of Toilet Duck, dry rot, and the sad-sweet chemical smell of psychic suffering.Welcome to Oxsmith Adolescent Secure Psychiatric Hospital, home to a hundred of the most dangerous children in the country.Among them, Bethany Krall.From my ground-floor office, you can see a row of white turbines in the distance, rooted in the sea like elegant food mixers. I admire the grace of their engineering, their slim discretion. I have thought about painting them but the urge is too theoretical, too distanced from the part of me that still functions. I often stare out at the horizon, mesmerized by their smoothly industrious response to the wind. Sometimes, when I have a very specific form of cabin fever, I copy their movements, whirling my arms in rhythm – not to capture energy but to release it. Glimpsing myself in a corner of the mirror, I’ll notice my hair, my eyes, my mouth, the intense tilt of my face, but I know better than to set any store by my looks, such as they are. They’ve done me no good.When I first encounter Bethany Krall I am two weeks into what has been billed as a six-month posting, filling in for Joy McConey, a psychotherapist who has left the institution on a sabbatical that I assume to be a euphemism for some unspoken disgrace. None of my new colleagues seems keen to discuss her. There’s a high turnover in places that have a reputation for being human trash cans. Most of us are on flexible contracts. This is not a prestige appointment. There are hints of new cutbacks that could lead to Oxsmith’s closing for good. But raw from my enforced exclusion from what rehab called “the cut and thrust,” I can’t afford to be choosy about my employment. In the absence of a long-term plan, part of my persuasive argument to myself in deciding to resettle is that a short-term strategy in a strange place is better than none in a familiar one.Amid the broken staplers, the withered spider plant, and the old styrofoam coffee cups of Joy McConey’s vacated office is a greeting card, the kind that’s “left blank for your personal message.” Inside, in small, frantic-looking handwriting, someone has stated, cryptically: “To Joy. Who truly believed.” Truly believed in what? God? An end to the grief in the Middle East? An inmate’s psychotic fantasies? The signature is illegible. I am no great fan of spider plants. But something – my frail, inconsistent inner Buddha, perhaps – prevents me from taking life in a gratuitous fashion, even if it’s low in the food chain. Let the plant live. But don’t encourage the fucking thing. It seems that mold can grow on coffee despite a plastic lid. I pour the dregs on the pot’s asbestoid soil and chuck the cup into the bin to join Joy’s card.I am not a nice person.I have gleaned this much from my fraught fellow workers: I’ve been assigned Bethany Krall as one of my main cases because no one else wants to deal with her. As the newcomer, I have no choice in the matter. Bethany has been labeled intractable by everyone who has dealt with her so far, with the exception of Joy McConey, whose notes are not in the file – very possibly because she never wrote any. While I’m not exactly nervous about having Bethany Krall on my list, I am not enthusiastic either. My perspective on physical violence has shifted since my accident. I now want to avoid it at all costs, and have taken every possible measure to do so, with the exception of having my strangulation-length hair cut short, because I’m vain about it. But perhaps with Bethany Krall on my list I’ll be visiting the hairdresser after all: according to the case notes, my new charge is something of an extremist in the aggression department.After ten years of dealing with criminally psychotic minors I am used to stories like Bethany Krall’s, but the reports of her mother’s murder still manage to stir up a familiar, heart-sinking queasiness, a kind of moral ache. The full-color police photos are shocking enough to make me blink, redirect my gaze out the window, and wonder what sort of person decides to opt for a career in forensic pathology. Apart from the turbines in the distance, there isn’t much to comfort the eye. The shimmering tarmac of the deserted basketball court, a line of industrial-sized garbage cans, and beyond the electrified perimeter fence a vista that twangs a country-and-western chord of self-pity in me. For a brief moment, when I first arrived, I thought of putting a photo of Alex – Laughing Alpha Male at Roulette Wheel – next to my computer, alongside my family collection: Late Mother Squinting into Sun on Pebbled Beach, Brother Pierre with Postpartum Wife and Male Twins, and Compos Mentis Father Fighting Daily Telegraph Crossword. But I stopped myself. Why give myself a daily reminder of what I have in every other way laid to rest? Besides, there would be curiosity from colleagues, and my responses to their questions would seem either morbid or tasteless or brutal depending on the pitch and roll of my mood. Memories of my past existence, and he future that came with it, can start as benign, Vaselined nostalgia vignettes. But they’ll quickly ghost train into malevolent noir shorts backlit by that great worst enemy of all victims of circumstance, hindsight. So for the sake of my own sanity, I apologize silently to Alex before burying him in the desk alongside my emergency bottle of Laphroaig and a little homemade flower press given to me by a former patient who hanged himself with a clothesline.The happy drawer.Before taking the lift up to the room christened, with creepy institutional earnestness, the Creativity Workshop, I go through the rest of Bethany Krall’s file, setting aside the more detailed notes of her drug regimen and physical checkups to glance at later.The facts are stark enough. Two years ago, on April 5, during Easter school vacation, Bethany Krall stabbed her mother, Karen, to death with a screwdriver in a frenzied and unexplained attack. At fourteen, Bethany Krall was small and underweight for her age. Remarkable, then, that her mother’s savaging should have been so ferocious and sustained: the child had drawn huge strength from somewhere. But there was no question she had committed the murder: the house was locked from the inside and her fingerprints were all over the weapon. Bethany’s father, Leonard, an evangelical preacher, was away at a prophecy conference in Birmingham at the time, having left that morning. He had spoken to his wife and daughter separately just an hour before the tragedy and reported that Karen was concerned about Bethany’s loss of appetite, while Bethany herself had complained of severe headaches. Karen Krall had put the call on speakerphone and they had all prayed together. This was a family tradition.At ten thirty that evening a neighbor heard violent screaming and raised the alarm, but by the time the police arrived Karen Krall was dead. They found her daughter curled on the floor next to her in a fetal position. In this photograph, you don’t see Bethany’s face, but you see the part of her mother’s that isn’t blood covered. The screwdriver is rammed deep into her left eye, its yellow plastic handle protruding. It has an odd jauntiness, like a dinner fork stuck upright in a joint of meat cooked rare and abandoned midmeal. The pool of blood on the floor has developed the kind of skin that acrylic or emulsion paint will form. Another photograph, taken from above, shows an open trash can containing, according to the notes, “the charred remains of one King James Bible.” A physical examination immediately after the tragedy showed recent bruising on Bethany’s body, particularly the upper arms, and damage to both wrists. From this it was concluded that a severe physical struggle had taken place.On the next page is a happier portrait of the Kralls, taken a year before the family imploded. It shows a dark-haired, sharp-faced child and, on either side of her, the parents: a good-looking father and his pale, more meager wife. They are all smiling widely – so widely, in Bethany’s case, that the braces on her teeth take center stage. Unhappiness takes many forms, I reflect. But happiness, or the semblance of it, can be as limited and unhelpful as the word cheese. Bethany’s teachers described her as highly intelligent but disturbed. Reading between the lines I suspect that, like so many kids of her generation, she is a classic product of the last decade, with its food shortages and mass riots and apocalyptically expanded Middle East war, and in her case, more specifically, of the Faith Wave that followed the global economic crash: a preacher’s strongheaded daughter who questioned the dominant role of fundamentalist Christianity in her life and rebelled. At school she was self-destructive and had very possibly had sexual relationships with boys, but she paid attention in class, showing a particular aptitude for science, art, and geography. There were no obvious signs of mental illness, though at the end of that spring term, in a staff meeting, concern was expressed that she seemed “more unhappy than usual.”I flick through to the next section, which is the attending police psychiatrist’s report. Dr. Waxman’s write-up is verbose, but the story it tells is straightforward enough. In the immediate wake of the murder, Bethany’s coping mechanism was as brutal and efficient as a field amputation in time of war: she lost her memory. She did not deny committing the crime but claimed to have no recollection of it or of what had provoked her to such drastic action. Nor would she speak to her father when he returned, distraught, from his trip to Birmingham. Her refusal led to distressing scenes. “Elective amnesia as a form of denial, or refuge, is not uncommon among those who have experienced trauma,” notes Waxman. “This can be just as applicable to the perpetrator of a crime as to its victim.” On committing her to the care of Oxsmith, Waxman pronounced himself hopeful that she would make progress within the next few weeks and months and moved on to his next case.But Waxman’s optimism about the beneficial effects of Oxsmith Adolescent Secure Psychiatric Hospital was misplaced. A year and a half into her institutionalization, Bethany Krall had made four attempts on her own life and seriously attacked another patient. Her memory had returned, but she refused to speak about the murder or what triggered it. She began to starve herself and, after being diagnosed with acute depression, was given a panoply of mood-altering drugs, none of which proved effective in improving her morale. Bethany showed no interest in cooperating in therapy sessions and remained largely mute. When she spoke, it was to express the belief that her heart was shrinking, her blood was poisoned, and she was “rotting from the inside.” Increasingly experimental drug combinations were applied, some of which made her state of mind worse and led to side effects such as trembling, drooling, lethargy, and, in one instance, convulsions. She exhibited extreme disturbance, cutting herself frequently and becoming dangerously underweight.One day, in the wake of a severe thunderstorm during which she mutilated her throat with a plastic fork, Bethany insisted that she was dead and that her body was slowly putrefying. To prove that as a corpse she was unable to digest food, she stopped eating altogether. At this point, Cotard’s syndrome – a nihilistic conviction that one’s body has expired – was aired as a diagnosis, and after some discussion it was agreed that she should undergo electroconvulsive therapy as a last resort.The results are described as “dramatic.” Bethany began to eat, talk, and respond more positively to therapy. Although she experienced some of the usual aftereffects of ECT, such as short-term memory loss and disorientation in the immediate wake of each session, the psychiatrists judged the treatment to be an unmitigated success. Bethany herself said she felt “more alive” and insisted she experienced the ECT interventions as positive – despite the fact that she was anesthetized throughout and could have no recollection of them. But weirdness is relative in the territory occupied by the mentally deranged. Anything can manifest itself and, with the skewed anti-logic of anxiety dreams, it does: cans of mango slices containing encoded messages from the Office for National Statistics, a conviction that your skeleton will dissolve if you think about sex, a grouting phobia. A junior arsonist I dealt with once, who could cite the chemical compound of every flammable gas known to man, insisted on keeping his mouth open to avoid getting lockjaw. He’d sleep with a wedge of pillow clamped between his teeth as though his life depended on it. “Life’s rich tapestry,” Dad would have said, in his bridge-and-crossword days, before Cartoon Network and the drool bib took over the show.Since March, after an initial five weeks of weekly sessions, Bethany’s shock therapy has been administered on average once a month, as a maintenance dose, by one Dr. Ehmet, whom I have not yet met, though I once caught sight of the back of his head and noted that he could do with a haircut. But effective though the ECT has been, Bethany’s refusal to discuss her parents and the catastrophic event that brought her here continues. What prompted her to attack and murder her mother with a screwdriver one April evening remains a mystery. Therapeutically, I am not sure how much this matters. Psychological principle has it that buried traumas must be exhumed and dealt with before a patient can move on. But I am less and less convinced by this reasoning. If there was a pill that could suppress horror, I would take it myself and wipe out the last two years of my life. The brain is as uncharted and unfathomable as the sea, and as capricious. But it is also wise enough to do what’s required to keep a body going. Who says that, for Bethany Krall, forensically analyzing what she did to her mother, and why, will do any good? Sensing this on some level, might she be using the ECT as a means of obliterating a crucial section of autobiographical memory?. . .Aware of the time, I skim quickly through the rest, which includes a further note, added by Oxsmith’s principal psychiatrist, Dr. Sheldon-Gray, at a later date: “The patient’s father, Leonard Krall, has declined to see Bethany in Oxsmith. Therapeutically speaking, this may be to Bethany’s advantage, as his explanation for his wife’s murder is that Bethany was ‘possessed by evil.’ ”I, too, have a problem with words like evil. When my mother died, my father sent me to a Catholic girls’ boarding school, a place of unshakable Bible certainties – certainties to which a man like Krall, and the millions like him who converted during the Faith Wave, can be no stranger. Living by such certainties, he knows that the only explanation for Bethany’s violence is nothing earthly, such as pain or revenge or anger or simply a chemical imbalance in the brain, but a “visit” from a notion. True faith, the kind of faith that is described sometimes as “burning,” carries its own aura. A sort of righteous chutzpah. You see them on their mass marches, their faces illuminated from deep within. That conviction, that passion, that energy: you can envy it.When I arrive in the studio for my meeting with Bethany, a thick-set male nurse is already there, talking on his mobile, deep in an elaborate technical discussion about shift schedules. I’ve heard that Rafik is tough and alert, but his with-you-in-a- minute gesture doesn’t inspire confidence. Despite having spent much of the last few months devising and practicing new physical defense strategies involving the grabbing and twisting of vulnerable body parts and the strategic hurling of objects, I feel permanently vulnerable, a moving target. The notes have just told me that last December Bethany Krall bit the ear off a boy who sexually attacked her. She chewed it up so badly it couldn’t be reattached.Marvelous. Bring her on.Then suddenly – far too suddenly – a huge escorting nurse with tattooed arms has done just that. The door has opened and a dark streak of a girl has walked right up to me. And already she’s too close. You never get used to everyone being taller than you, to seeing them from the wrong angle. She should step back a bit. But she doesn’t. Rafik exchanges grunts with his mountainous colleague, who nods at me as if to say “package delivered,” and leaves. I could shift again, but I don’t want to risk it. She’d know what it meant.Bethany Krall is small, bird-boned, and underdeveloped for a sixteen-year-old. On her head, a tangled mass of dark hair like a child’s angry scribble. Self-harm being an ever-popular hobby among the female patients at Oxsmith, her bare arms reveal the usual welter of cigarette burns and crosswise slashes, some old, some more recent.“Hallelujah. The new psychiatrist.” Her voice is babyish for her age but oddly hoarse, as though someone has scrubbed the inside of her throat with a chemical abrasive.“Good to meet you, Bethany,” I say, maneuvring myself to offer a handshake. “I’m actually a therapist rather than a doctor.”“Same shit, different asshole,” she declares, not taking my hand. Like me, she’s wearing black: the garb of mourning. Does she still believe, on some level, that she has died?“Gabrielle Fox. I’m new here, I’ve taken over from Joy McConey.”“I always start by giving you guys the benefit of the doubt. That means ten stars out of ten to begin with,” she says, assessing my wheelchair. “But you get an extra one for being a spaz. Positive discrimination, yeah? So you’re starting with eleven.”The notes mentioned she was articulate but I’m still surprised. You come across it so little in this kind of place.“Ten’s fine, Bethany. In fact, very generous of you. I specialize in art therapy. Subscribing to the theory that art’s a good way of expressing feelings when words fail.”Her eyes are dark, feline, heavily outlined in kohl. Sallow olive skin, a narrow, asymmetrical face. She’s what you’d call striking rather than pretty. Or jailbait. Her hair looks matted beyond redemption. She seems a far cry from the girl in the family photo. Has she spent the last two years soaking up the institution’s own brand of teen culture, or is this attitude intrinsic? In either case, she behaves like she’s up for a fight, and she looks like trouble, and she sounds like trouble – but then most of them do, one way or another. Preliminary assessment: she’s more intelligent and more verbal than most but otherwise, so far, so normal.“The bottom line is, I’m here to help you and encourage you to express whatever you want to express here in the–” I am unable to say Creativity Workshop: it gets stuck in my throat. “Here in this studio. Whatever it is. No limits. It’s an exploration. Sometimes it can take you to dark places. But I’m on your side.”“A spaz who patronizes me. Great. Great to have you on my side in dark places. Psychobabbling away.”“I’m just someone to talk to. Or if you don’t want to talk, I’m here to supply you with paper and art materials. Not everything works in words. No matter how big your vocabulary.”She waggles two fingers at her opened mouth to indicate disgust. “You’re down to five. I can see you don’t belong here.” She looks at me levelly. “So perhaps you should just wheel yourself off into the sunset in that spazmobile of yours. Before something bad happens.” She circles the chair, then stops behind me and leans down to whisper in my ear. “So you’ve taken over from Joy. Tragic Joy. I guess you’ve heard all about the distressing way she left?” Her knowing use of cliché strikes me as a possible clue to her inner clockwork. She speaks as though her life is an object held at a distance, a source of amusement – a fiction rather than a reality. “I warned her about what would happen. I warned her.”I’m snared by this, as she intends, but I know better than to show an interest in my predecessor, so I gesture at the walls.“Is any of this work here yours?”There is a game you can play: match the artwork to the wacko. But having spent time – more time than I ever intended – in casinos, among roulette wheels and backgammon tables and stacked chips, I know that it’s too much like poker, another pastime it’s wise not to indulge in.“Yeah, Joy was tragic but you’re tragic too, I guess,” she continues, ignoring my question. “I mean, you bother with makeup when no one’s going to take a second look, are they, no matter how hot you are, right? Unless they’re some sort of perv. No offense. But hey, Spaz. Reality check.”If you show them an abusive word has got to you, they know they’ve won. And then they can do anything. And they will. “I asked if you’d done any of the work here,” I say lightly. “And you can call me Gabrielle.”“You mean these great masterpieces?”She glances around with disdain. The artwork features the usual range of motifs: flowers, anarchic fuck-the-system graffiti, graveyards, jungle animals, bulging breasts, and engorged phalluses. But there are some oddities too. One of the kids, a skinny twelve-year-old boy who helped his father murder his sister in the name of family honor, has been constructing a huge papier-mâché hot air balloon, striped blue and white, that hangs from the ceiling above us like a big lightbulb. It is an enterprising, ambitious, hopeful, and joyous balloon: a balloon that is more whole in spirit than the boy who made it. It’s both consoling and intriguing that art can do that. Look at a pickled brain, and you’ll see a putty gray bolus, lumpy and naked as an exposed mollusc. But there’s space inside for a thousand worlds, none of which need be remotely compatible.“Perhaps it’s time to try making something in here,” I suggest. “Is that something we could schedule in for you?”It’s as though I haven’t spoken. I ride out the silence for a while but then realize she’s playing a waiting game too. The fixity of her expression – contempt as a default mode – indicates that her mind’s lodged somewhere she considers safe. I catch Rafik’s eye and he looks at me with what might be sympathy. He’s well liked here. He’d be called “a rough diamond” or perhaps even “a devoted family man” in news reports of his violent death at the hands of a psychotic patient. I wonder how many Bethany Krall sessions he has sat through.“Bethany?” I prompt eventually. “Any thoughts?”With a sudden movement she perches herself on the central table and lets out a theatrical sigh.“First I get my ECT. Then Tragic Joy. And now you. So my thoughts are that Oxsmith is treating me like a fucking princess. You’re down to one star, missus.” Turning to the wall mirror, she inspects her teeth, still caged in the same silver braces as in the family photo. “Hey. See anything interesting in there, Uncle Rafik?” she asks, noticing his eye on her. “Fancy a high-risk blow job?” He turns away, and she cackles in triumph.“If you don’t feel like doing any artwork we can just sit together and watch movies if that’s what you want,” I persevere.“Porn? Extra star for saying yes.”“Sure,” I say, noting how quickly sex has entered the conversation. “Anything for a star on the Bethany Krall Competence Scale. If they have any porn in the DVD library. I haven’t investigated. How do you feel about watching hard-core sex?”She laughs. “You’re babbling again. You people are so fucking predictable.”She is right, of course. If Bethany is disturbed minor number three hundred for me, I am probably therapist number thirty for her. She knows the tricks of the trade, its let’s-coax-it-out ploys, its carefully framed “open” questions and neat follow-ups, its awareness of key words and phrases, a set of formulae I’ve been increasingly inclined to abandon since my accident. It’s clear that with a case like Bethany the normal rules do not apply. I can see that, at this rate, we’ll soon be going off-road. Gonzo therapy. What’s to lose?But for now I stick to the well-worn track.“The art group meets here three times a week for sessions. But some people prefer working alone. I’d guess you might be one of them. I’ve got watercolor equipment, acrylics, inks, clay, or you can do computer imaging, photography, that sort of thing. My only rule is, no homemade tattoos.”“And if I don’t want to do any of that shit? Including date stamping myself by decorating my tits with snakes?”“The content of our sessions is up to you. We could just talk. Or go for a walk.”Her face sparks up meanly. “Go for a walk, like how?” Her voice is cross-hatched with elaborate scorn. Exhausting to maintain those levels of anger and yet have no specific target. How tired she must be.“Around the garden.” Just us and five male nurses with shaved heads who pump iron. A smile is quirking the corners of her mouth.“Yes, you would need some physical protection. With my record of violence? Which you’ve just read about in my file? I’ve read about it too. And seen the pictures. Gory stuff. Hey, I’d be afraid of me.”I wait a beat. But she’s used to that: no dice. “Are there ways you are afraid of you, Bethany? Having looked at those pictures?”Her mother’s desecrated face barges into my mind like a crude shout.“You must feel like totally naked in that wheelchair. I mean, someone could just tip you out of it. You’d be like a beetle stuck upside down.”She contemplates the image for a moment. My heart rate has gone up and I’m aware of blinking more than I should. Sweat pricks in my armpits. She has pinpointed a fear, and she knows it.“But I’m interested in this walking thing. I mean, how would it work? Seeing as you seem to be, excuse me for pointing it out, but totally fucking disabled, lower-limb-wise? Do I push you in that thing?”“No need. I wheel myself. You learn a lot in spaz rehab,” I say, defusing the word and tweaking a tiny smile out of her. I’ve had this chair eighteen months, and my hands have transmogrified into tools, accessories of meat and bone, the skin of the heel calloused despite the gloves. “So how would you feel about a fresh-air session?”“How would I feel about it,” she repeats slowly. I immediately regret my choice of phrase. “How would that make you feel, Bethany? Bethany, in terms of feelings, what’s going on at the moment, inside? That’s the bottom line for you, right? Look at you. Babble, babble, babble. You’re fucking tragic. I can’t believe they let you work here. Don’t they vet you guys? Filter out the lame ones? Whoops – no pun intended. But zero out of ten. And you’ve got there in record time. I appoint you babble champion of Oxsmith!”I gaze out at the slowly spinning turbines.No: I should not be here. And Bethany Krall has swiftly spotted it.In rehab, they lectured you on the importance of establishing a healthy routine. Hadport Lido opens at seven. In the mornings, I’ll often spend an hour there, hoisting myself into the shallow end and doing twenty tepid laps amid the drowned insects. I have come to know the staff there by name; Goran, Chloe, Vishnu, tanned and healthy and sparkle-eyed. They’ll say hi, and I’ll say hi back. To them, I am the nice lady they feel sorry for and admire for her “courage”– as if she has any choice in the matter. I overheard them once, evoking the pathos of the nice lady’s plight, noting her attractiveness, and speculating about her age. The consensus was that the nice lady was “late twenties”– a flattering assessment for a thirty-five-year-old. The nice lady, who is not really a nice lady at all, swam on. Her arm muscles, already well honed by the wheelchair, have developed into features to die for. Want them? she feels like asking whenever she receives compliments from well-meaning people, the kind of people who drive her even more insane than she already is. I’ll swap them for your legs.Swimming is both good and bad for rage. It can help to dissipate it, but it can also focus and refine it. I was told back in London that if I wanted to work at a senior level again I’d need to deal with my “issues.” That, said my employers, would involve more intensive therapy, plus a written self-assessment and analysis. My reaction, when they told me this in the meeting – a warm afternoon, the sun just sinking behind the old Battersea Power Station – was what we in the business call “inappropriate.”“You’re talking to a trained psychologist, for fuck’s sake!” I said.Or did I shriek?Yes, I must admit I shrieked. Shrieking is both deeply feminine and deeply unfeminine at the same time. When women imitate pressure cookers, they show their worst selves, the side that men call either “passionate” or “mad,” depending on whether or not good looks are involved.“Don’t patronize me with lectures about coming to terms with the new reality. I live with it every day! I am the new reality!”Nor is shrieking a good way to communicate in a psychiatric establishment, if you are not an inmate and indeed if you have been until now classified among the sane and are in charge of others less fortunate.“Gabrielle, I have enormous sympathy and respect for you, and you have been through what no person should go through. With all your . . . terrible losses. But you work in the field,” said Dr. Sulieman when the members of the committee had trooped out, exchanging distressed glances. “See it from an employer’s point of view.”If my legs worked, I’d have kicked him. Violent urges came to me very readily back then.The “negative attitude” I had toward my diminished status as a human being after my accident was unfortunately a “significant problem.” As Sulieman spoke, I inspected the print on the wall behind him, the image he had chosen as his own personalized backdrop: Monet’s lily pond, with its hypnotic plays of light, its strangely hot greens and blues.“A problem which, until it’s resolved, means we are unable to accept you back as a therapist at the present time.”He’s into the classics, so where’s Kandinsky? I wondered. Where’s Egon Schiele? Where’s van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, where’s Rothko, where’s The Scream?I’d just spent an hour with my physiotherapist, learning how to hit people where it hurt. A karate chop to the balls. A squirt of vinegar in the eyes. A flung object, aimed at the head. Cripple power. A flicker of pity from my boss, and that expensive Venetian paperweight on his desk – a whirling rhapsody of trapped bubbles and squirls – would make contact with his skull.“I need to work, Omar. If you can’t take me back, then find me somewhere else.”“That’s not the best thing for you, Gabrielle. Or the people you’re helping.”“Look at this chair. I’m welded to it forever. I’ll probably never have another relationship. Or children. Call me melodramatic, but the fact is, every night I lie in bed and hear the clang of doors closing on my future. So if I can’t do the thing I know how to do and still can do, the thing you helped train me in, the thing I’m good at by all accounts, how can I even be me? If you can answer that question for me, bravo. Because I can’t. If I can’t work, I’m done for.”When a job came up at Oxsmith, he recommended me. Then, three months later, I heard that he was dead. Good people drop like flies, I thought. And I never thanked him the way I should have.Water under the bridge.In the art studio, Rafik’s pager has registered the arrival of a text which he now seems intent on answering. Meanwhile Bethany has switched tack.“I suppose you could be something the drugs do,” she’s saying dreamily. “Something in my head. That happens. I’ve still got a load of psychotropic toxins in my bloodstream. They’ll never leave my body. Like saccharine. Did you know that saccharine just builds up forever in your system?” The notion that I might be a hallucination doesn’t seem alarming to her. In this moment, it quite appeals to me too. “So what do I call my new savior? Spaz? Saint Gabrielle?”“Gabrielle’s fine.”She thinks for a moment. “Wheels.”“I’d prefer Gabrielle,” I say, swiveling again to assess her profile. She closes her eyes. A moment passes.“You’re quite a fish, aren’t you?” she says, her eyes opening again in unexpected delight. Dark, like night pools. “Quite a mermaid. Always in the water! Up and down you go! You like getting out of that chair, don’t you. It’s like being freed from your cage!” She beams, as if she has solved a puzzle in record time.As I try to fathom this, I don’t reply. But then it occurs to me she can probably simply smell the chlorine.“If I touched your hand I’d know even more,” she says. The delight has gone, replaced by amused menace. “I didn’t even have to touch Joy McConey to know things. I saw what she had coming.” If she’s asking permission, I am not giving it. I’ll shake hands on the first meeting but apart from that I don’t do physical contact. “I register stuff. But half the time it doesn’t mean jack shit to me. It’s, like, way over my head.”“Can you tell me more about this ‘stuff ’ you register?”She smiles. “Seas burning. Sheets of fire. Whole coasts washed away. The glaciers melting like butter in a microwave. You know Greenland? Basically dissolved. Like a great big aspirin that says Hazard Warning on it. Empty towns full of human bones, with lizards and coyotes in charge. And trees everywhere, and whales and crocodiles in the underground. The lost continent of Atlantis.” Are these drug-induced visions? Daydreams? Or is it metaphorical?“It sounds like a dangerous world you’re describing. Dangerous and chaotic and life threatening. A lot of people worry about climate change. It’s not an irrational fear.”The latest projections predict the loss of the Arctic ice cap and a global temperature rise of up to six degrees within Bethany’s lifetime, unless drastic measures are taken now. I should be grateful to be childless. Just as the Cold War figures heavily in the fantasies of elderly mental patients, climate-apocalypse paranoia is common among the young. Zeitgeist stuff: the banality of abnormality. Its roots in fact so appalling we turn the other way politely. I’d like to steer Bethany toward the subject of suicide, my main concern, on paper at least, because if she dies on my watch there will be administrative issues that won’t look good on my first post-accident job. What is the likelihood of a repeat performance? Apart from the four attempts, according to the notes she is a regular self-harmer. They also label her well informed, manipulative, and prone to dramatic mood swings, as well as psychotic fantasies, biblical outpourings, and sudden extreme violence. Again, unwillingly, I conjure the police photographs. Forty-eight stab wounds. The screwdriver in Karen Krall’s eye. The film of skin forming on the blood like antique sealing wax. The photographer’s flash stamped in it forever, like a fossil star.“It is a dangerous world. And we’re in it. There’s no escape, Wheels.” She gives a small, mirthless laugh. “All of those people out there. Decent hardworking folks who ain’t never done no one no harm,” she says, putting on a cartoonish yokel voice. “Dying a horrible death. All of us dying a horrible death.” This notion seems to cheer rather than frighten her. Suddenly there’s an electric energy about her. I sense an immense reservoir of violence and anger, a latent force that I find as compelling as it is alarming. I must watch out of my own perversity. “Have you heard of the Rapture?” she asks.“Vaguely.” I know of it as an element of the Faith Wave creed brought over by the British citizens who abandoned their sunshine homes in Florida and returned to the UK to sit out the slump. Its popularity was expanded by celebrity conversions and a swathe of addictive redemption-themed TV shows. “Tell me about it.”“It’s salvation for the righteous. When the shit hits the fan, the true Christians go straight to heaven in, like, a big airlift. The rest get left behind. Mercy for the pure in heart, justice for the rest. It’s all in the Bible. Look at Ezekiel, look at Daniel, look at Thessalonians, look at Revelation. All the signs are there. Iran, Jerusalem. Things are going to blow any day. Seven years of tribulation. Coming soon to a planet near you. The heat of hell. The survivors, they’ll be trapped in it. It’s starting now. You can feel it. Plagues and pestilences and God’s wrath and the reign of the Antichrist. Who shall plant the mark of the Beast upon them.”There is a sick logic to the Faith Wave phenomenon, I reflect: in the face of more Islamic terror attacks, why not pit one insane dogma against another? Every week there are mass baptisms, true-story gatherings, commitment marches.“Do you have faith, Bethany?”“Faith?” She snorts. “That’s a good one. Would I be here if there was a God? I don’t think so! But I have the mark of the Beast. Look.” She plants a forefinger on each temple. “Invisible, in my case. That’s where the electrodes go.”“What did God mean to you, growing up?” “He never meant me any good. The thing I never get is, who created God? No one can ever answer that one. It’s like the universe. It’s ever expanding, right? But what’s outside it?”“God never meant you any good in what way?” She shrugs, and looks away. Either she doesn’t know or she is withholding. I wait a moment but when I see I’ll get nothing I try another tack. “What was it like being a child in your family, Bethany?” She shrugs again. “You can quote the Bible. So I’m wondering what sort of influences you had.”“Are you. Well, wonder on.” She looks edgy. “We believe in the universal sinfulness of all men since the Fall, rendering man subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.”“Who’s we?”“Them.”“Your parents?”“Hey, she’s hot! How many degrees has she got up her ass?”“So tell me what else you’re thinking about.”She perks up, splaying her hands in front of her and flexing them as if to test their competence as grabbing tools. Her nails are as filthy as animal claws. One scratch, and she’d infect you.“Half the planet drowns, I can tell you that. Islands sinking, coasts getting eaten up by the sea. The land getting smaller. Water sloshing all over it in these giant tsunamis, the temperature zinging up. The stuff on the way, that’s just part of it. I’ve seen it in the Quiet Room. Earth looks like a gobstopper. You can zoom in. Satellite vision, Wheels. You hear what I’m saying?”She is nodding so hard that her whole body begins to rock with the movement. She can’t seem to agree with herself enough.“Yeah. I have fucking satellite vision. Like the Hubble telescope.”The Quiet Room is a nondescript chamber on the second floor of Virgil Block, where they administer an antispasmodic drug, a general anesthetic, and then electroshock therapy to inmates who have not responded to other treatments. The thought of a sixteen-year-old enjoying it makes me feel queasy.“It’s not weather that’s causing it. Weather’s a side product,” she’s telling me, still rocking, a fleck of spit gathering at the corner of her mouth. I try to quell my distaste for this girl and for the unimaginativeness of her cataclysmic visions – visions already shared by half the population, along with a belief in miracles and tarot readings, if the polls are anything to go by. “It’s the kind of thing that could land you in a desert of chemical crystals. Or leave you stranded somewhere in a wheelchair.” She raises her eyebrows at me meaningfully. “On a black rock with dead trees. It’s not just heat, it’s geological activity, worse than the worst earthquake.” She is alert, flushed, vivid. The stock diagnostic phrase a danger to herself and others slides through my mind. The cynicism has given way to manic excitement. “Cracking, not where the tectonic plates meet but in other places, new places.” The words are tumbling out in a rush, making the fleck of spit pulse. “Belching out these unbreathable toxic gases. You know why it’s so hot at the earth’s core? Because this planet’s just a chunk of some supernova that exploded, like, eons ago.”I wonder what channels she has been watching. Discovery, BBC World, Cartoon Network, News 24, CNN. But where? When? The TV in the rec room seems permanently fixed on MTV. The Internet. A million Web sites, a zillion images – you can go anywhere, believe in anything, see carnage of every variety, scare yourself to Neptune and back. If global warming is terminal proof that we have fouled our own nest, Bethany is evidence that some human minds can draw energy from the fact.“You know what I mean by the earth’s core,” she says, touching her heart with spread fingers. Her father is a preacher: I wonder how much of her presentation comes, unconsciously, from him. Or perhaps it’s just an ability to convey conviction that she has picked up, a charisma. “I mean its center. I mean its soul. I saw it when they zapped me. You’re not supposed to remember anything about the shock, right? But I do. My whole body wakes up. I came back from the dead, you know. Like Lazarus. Or Jesus Christ. I can see things. Wheels. Disasters. I’ve made notes. Dates, times, places, everything. Just like a weathergirl. They should employ me. I’d get paid a fucking fortune. I can see stuff happening before it happens. I feel it. Atoms popping about. Vibrations in your blood. These huge fucking wounds. The planet in meltdown. This freezing stuff, pouring from the cracks. Then it heats up, like some kind of magma. And whoosh. The promised land.” She smiles, bright eyed, and for a tiny, fleeting fraction of time she looks ecstatically, murderously happy.Unimaginably atrocious things have surely been done to Bethany to make her do what she did: things that can never be undone. And she has done an unimaginably atrocious thing in return. I doubt I will ever get to the bottom of the trauma that led her to take a Phillips screwdriver to her mother, though I might take a second look at the photo of the father and hazard a guess that some of the damage came from him too. What matters now is Bethany “moving forward,” as the jargon goes, on a shiny conveyor belt of psychic progress. People like me are supposed to believe in repair, and I once did, until I became the object of my own clinical trial. After which–Not anymore. Damage limitation, perhaps. Sometimes. Sometimes not. When you stop being a woman, as I did on May 14 two years ago, there are things you see more clearly. Sexuality confounds matters, insinuating itself into every exchange. Freed of all that, you can see things for what they are, like kids do, and old people. That’s my theory. But it’s only a theory. And anyway, who says I am free?“So you see, with all that going on in my head, it’s, like, nonstop around here. Things to think about, things to do, that’s me,” finishes Bethany. But after the rush of information, the burst of energy, she seems suddenly deflated, dissatisfied with herself. Her fantasies are a fertile oasis in the desert of her boredom, and a corner of her consciousness knows it.“Things in the self-destruction department.”“Things in the self-destruction department.” She mimics me well enough to make me wince internally. “Bibble babble, bibble babble, bibble babble.”I let my eyes wander around the room until I catch sight of myself in the mirror and make a swift, stranger’s appraisal: a woman with extravagant brunette hair, who may be skilled at her work, and goodlooking in a seriously-damaged-goods sort of way. Who will never walk again, never have sex, never give birth. Who shall remain forever beholden to others.Bethany has stopped rocking and is looking at me intently. I don’t say anything, but an instinct makes me assess the distance between us. And the angles. When my father moved into the assisted living facility five years ago, my brother, Pierre, came over from Quebec and together we cleared out his bungalow. One of the souvenirs I took with me was a freak of geology known as a thunder egg that Maman kept on her dressing table: a perfect fist-sized sphere of flint that passed down her family, along with the eccentric story that if someone sat on it for long enough it would hatch. Maman was much attached to the thunder egg, and now I am much attached to it, too, though not for the same romantic reasons. In addition to the regulation personal alarm all staff carry, and in defiance of the hospital’s strict regulations, I keep the stone ball in a hanging pouch under my seat, in case of emergency, along with my miniature spray can of photographic glue – also illicit – which I’ve been reliably told is as effective as Mace. But if I can’t react fast enough, and Bethany reaches for a sharpened pencil and stabs me, how long will it be before Rafik – still busy – intervenes and activates his alarm? Trapped as I am, I’d be a lot quicker to kill than Ms. K.Almost as though she has read my thoughts, with a swift movement – too sudden for me to react – Bethany has reached out and grabbed my wrist with her small, surprisingly muscled hand. Her skin is clammy, her grip too tight.“Let go of me, Bethany.” I take care to say it quietly and calmly, to hide the inner scream. Rafik has jumped to intervene but I signal to him that I will deal with this for now. Still gripping my wrist, Bethany turns my hand over so that the palm is facing upward and puts her finger on my pulse. I feel it begin to race under the pad of her skin.“Let my hand go, please, Bethany.”But she is somewhere else. Her face has a mesmerized look. “So someone died,” she says, in her baby voice. “Someone died a horrible death.” My breath catches roughly in my throat. “There’s no point telling me he didn’t,” she continues excitedly. “ ’Cause, fuck! I can feel it in your blood!” She narrows her eyes. “I died once, so I know. I recognize the symptoms. Death leaves a mark. Did you know that blood has its own memory? It’s like rock, and water, and air.” I look down at my pinioned wrist. I know my arms are stronger than hers. But when I start to pull away, she tightens her grip and I think with an inner lurch: perhaps they’re not.With a practiced movement, Rafik has grabbed her other arm. “Easy, Bethany. Let go of Miss Fox now.” Smoothly, he pulls off the cap of his belt alarm.“And you never got to know him properly, did you?” Bethany is whispering. A flashing light in the corridor outside indicates the emergency call has worked. They’ll be here in seconds. Again I try to pull away and fail. Rafik has a firm hold of her shoulders now but she’s gripped a handle of my wheelchair and barnacled herself to it. The fingers of her other hand, which Rafik is trying to prise away, now tighten further on my wrist, pressing deep into the pulse. “It wasn’t fair, was it? It was just the beginning of a beautiful relationship!”“Off her now!” mutters Rafik, tugging so fiercely at Bethany’s arm that my wheelchair threatens to capsize. I try not to scream, try not to think, an upturned beetle.“Yeah, a beautiful relationship, right? The best ever!” Bethany’s head is next to mine now and she’s whispering in my ear. I watch the lights flashing outside and listen for footsteps running. I don’t hear any. “But you never found out how the two of you would be together. That’s your problem. You got emptied out. You had two hearts and one was gone. Hey. That sucks. The poor tragic cripple!”Finally, Rafik has pulled Bethany off the chair, released my wrist, and forced both her hands behind her back. Roughly, he shoves her against the wall and struggles to keep her in position while waiting for backup.I reach my hand under my seat and flex my fingers round my thunder egg while the pressure swells in my head. For a few seconds I am too disoriented to speak. I look out the window. The turbines spin their slow rotations on the horizon, far out at sea. My heart hurts. No, it aches. So someone died a horrible death. . . . You never got to know him properly. Two hearts and one was gone. Then the rage comes in, a big ugly slub of it. She has hurt me, seen things and said things she shouldn’t have, and more than anything I want to damage her. Badly. I palm the stone and consider its decisive heft. It’s aching to be thrown. Then I realize that if I don’t get away from her right now, I’ll do it. Or try to. And miss, of course, and fall out of the chair in a ridiculous lunge. And then it will be me whom Rafik is restraining, and I’ll lose my job.At last the door bursts open and six psychiatric nurses pour in: four men and two women, all built like tanks. They swarm onto her and pin her to the floor while Rafik stands back, rubbing his wrist in pain.“Little bitch bit me,” he mutters, wiping at the blood.“I think we’ll call it a day now, Bethany,” I breathe, trying to make sure the sob that’s hatching in my throat doesn’t make it to the surface. “I’ll see you next time.”She seems to find this, or something else, unaccountably funny. In any case, as I leave the room she laughs and laughs, like the horrible, crazy little girl she is.Suppression is easily done. It’s a simple matter of choice. My decision to forget what Bethany said – about things she can’t possibly know – is a judgment call. I’m fully aware of what I am doing. In the time it takes to hurtle up the corridor to the lift, I have flung the moment from my mind and from my life, like toxic waste down a chute.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. The Rapture combines ecological intrigue with the genres of sci-fi, suspense, gothic horror and romance. Of these genres, which was foremost for you?2. Discuss Jensen’s unusual word choices in describing weather events. For example, in the novel’s very first paragraph, she describes the sea as reflecting the sun “in tiny, barbaric mirrors.” What is the effect for the reader?3. Gabrielle develops a mantra, a quote from a Frida Kahlo painting that translates as “When I have you, life, how much I love you.” What does this phrase mean to her? To you? Do you have any personal mantras? Look up a detailed biography of Kahlo. Do you see any other reasons Gabrielle might be drawn to her?4. Gabrielle recalls that before being felled by Alzheimer’s, her father described their era as “the age of dogma” (p 27). What do you think about his assessment?5. Do you see a particular significance to the names Jensen has selected for her protagonists?6. As a mentally damaged psychologist, Gabrielle thinks of herself as an izgoy, the Russian word for someone who bears a flaw that renders them singularly unsuited for their professional or social role (p 36). Do you agree that she is an izgoy? Have you ever encountered a real-life example of this phenomenon?7. Have you ever met someone who has an uncanny ability, perhaps not as extreme as Bethany’s, to intuit the histories and experiences of other people? Do you think it’s possible?8. Were you surprised by the secret that Bethany told Frazer the day they first met?9. Gabrielle considers Harish Modak’s op-ed assertion that “the kindest thing to do for our grandchildren is to refrain from generating them” (p 30). Given the environmental catastrophe looming in this novel, what do you think?10. Do you think there’s special significance to the thunder egg that Gabrielle keeps hidden under her chair?11. Why do you think Bethany is so eager to tell people about future catastrophes? What do you judge her motives to be? At the opening of chapter seven, Gabrielle wonders what goes through Bethany’s head when her predictions turn out to be correct. What do you think?12. When the news of the Istanbul earthquake hits, Gabrielle and Frazer feel terrible guilt. Are they indirectly responsible for this loss of life? Could they have done more?13. Frazer points out to Gabrielle that when people forecast the end of the world, they’re usually predicting the end of humanity only. “Geologically speaking, it’s just business as usual. One era comes to an abrupt end, the biosphere takes a severe knock, and a new era begins” (p 251). What do you think of this view? What about the other eco-philosophies expressed in the book?14. What did you think of the book’s ending? Were you surprised? What do you think might happen next?15. The film rights to The Rapture have already been optioned. Discuss how you think it should be adapted for film. Who would you cast?

Editorial Reviews

Praise for the works of Liz Jensen:“If this is what the new century holds for the novel, we’re in luck. Uncowed by female literary tradition, moved by high intelligence, sharp, funky, funny, prophetic.” — Fay Weldon“A wonderfully unsettling psychological thriller. . . . An oddly beautiful journey into the darkest corners of the human soul.” — Mail on Sunday“Wickedly funny and fantastical. . . . Pitch-perfect. . . . Beautifully rendered.” — Independent on Sunday (UK)“Packs an irresistibly twisted wallop. . . . Exhilarating, darkly inventive.” — Elle“Wonderfully strange . . . an affecting psychological novel about transgression and the mysteries of the subconscious. . . . Try putting [it] down.” — People “A remarkable suspense novel: tart, mysterious and wrenching.” — Anthony Minghella “Magnificent . . . impressively capricious and imaginative.” — The Guardian (UK)From the Hardcover edition.