Van has finished reading…A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

11 Nov

Isn’t it funny how in general we find it easy to sneer at believers, at the absurdity of their belief and how manipulated they are by the organisation that herds them – and yet every Christmas it seems a harmless, almost tongue-in-cheek kindness of a deception we lay on our children. Like it or not we are all believers. Even the scientists. As soon as a theory is posited, as soon as you see that word conjecture, for all the mountain of evidence that suggests the conclusion must be true its author has taken a leap of faith.
The Bradley family are about to be tested. When you stop believing in Father Christmas the presents keep coming but when you lose your faith – for a time at least – you wonder how it is your body keeps on breathing. The world isn’t shiny and new, it’s dark and lonely and terrifying. Dad Ian is a Mormon Bishop. Seeing God’s goodness in the everyday is second nature to him, having grown up in the Church. His wife, Claire, though now part of the fold was an outsider before they met. It seems a particular level of cruelty (one that made me swear at him under my breath on the train) when Ian asks a Blessing of The Lord and makes it conditional on the strength of Claire’s faith.
Crucially, this isn’t a book about or against The Church, either generally or specifically. What Carys Bray does, as every great storyteller does, is show us the lives of her characters and how events shape them, as well as how their belief interprets events, and allows us to make up our own minds. The cast is vivid and tangible (even the more outlandish ones; anyone who’s spent time in a church will confirm that) and the family rings true as a well-cast bell. Jacob is my favourite, a character to put on the shelf alongside Pea from Claire King’s The Night Rainbow. The way he applies his understanding to events is funny, heart-breaking and perfectly measured. Dad Ian, on the other hand, goes next to Michael Paul from Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship for infuriating fathers – at least up until the crescendo. And what a crescendo it is.
Zipporah wrestles with her Church’s views on women and I have to say this is a particularly difficult pill to swallow. As ever, Carys Bray weights it perfectly, neither preaching nor condemning but allowing her characters to live through the facts of her narrative. I couldn’t help feeling a flicker of hope when she admitted she probably wouldn’t after being asked if she’d join the Church if she hadn’t been born into it.

It’s a wonderfully woven, keenly observed story. The family move and sound and feel like just that throughout. The final shifting, or cracking or perhaps coalescing of those characters is timed to perfection and in one case, frankly, comes as a blessed relief. And those last twenty-odd pages can’t fail to raise a smile beneath the tears. I love the cover too (the one with the bird).

A Song For Issy Bradley was published by Hutchinson on 19th June 2014 ISBN:9780091954376
You can find Carys Bray on Twitter @CarysBray and at her website


One Response to “Van has finished reading…A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray”


  1. Van has finished reading…How Much The Heart Can Hold | vanisreading - 23/09/2016

    […] the title of his story; Donal Ryan presents a desperate and very moving story of obsessive love; Carys Bray, who seems to understand that what the heart holds it does so delicately, that fierce and tender […]

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