First published back in January of 2015, ‘The Offering’ formed the third novel to be published by British author Grace McCleen.

DLS Synopsis:
Madeline Adamson’s childhood was far from joyous.  As an only child, home-schooled by her mother, her best friend in the world became their family dog, Elijah.  For Madeline it was a quiet and lonely existence.  Her parents brought her up understanding the love of God.  They were more than God-fearing folk.  Their existence was one in the hope of spreading the word of God.  They lived for the love of God.  He is the provider.

When Madeline was thirteen, they moved out to a remote island where they hoped to have more success with their preaching.  Madeline’s father had always struggled finding work.  He would ask around for any labour jobs going.  Moving from job to job, never really knowing how long they will have money coming in for.

On the island it was no different.  The locals seemed apprehensive of the new arrivals.  Their attempts at preaching won them no favours.  Within days of arriving they felt like outcasts.  Unwanted on the island.  And so work was doubly scarce.

After just two months spent at the bungalow, the Adamson’s move again to a farm that recently went on to the market following the death of the previous owner.  Here they hope that their luck will change.  Madeline’s mother thinks of all the things that the farm could bring them.  A coffeehouse where people could drop by.  A guest house which could bring in a healthy income.  But mostly, it was a new start for the family.

But it was never going to be that easy.  Their idyllic wishes would be little more than unresolved dreams.  At the farm they will find hardship, poverty and bad fortune.  But they still have their faith in God.  A faith that He will see them through their difficulties.  Even Madeline’s faith is as strong as ever.  She has found a way to let God in.  And she knows that if God can visit her, then he must be looking out for them.  He must be there.  He must be.

But something happened to Madeline Adamson on the night of her fourteenth birthday that would tear the rest of her life apart.  The night she ran away, something happened that was too traumatic for her mind to process.  When the police found her she was dishevelled and incoherent.  Over the following weeks she stopped speaking, eating and sleeping.

Now, twenty-one years later, and Madeline resides at the Letham Park Mental Infirmary.  Her current illness is symptomatic of the repression her mind has put in place.  But with a new doctor now offering the possibility of a cure, Madeline’s troubled past is about to be opened up again.

As Dr Lucas will soon find out, the ground that Madeline is about to re-tread is one of shame, isolation and a bitter misguided belief…

DLS Review:
I have to admit that I’m an absolute sucker for stories where religion is given a bit of a battering.  Faith can be so easily twisted to one’s perception of what is right and wrong; with rituals and sacrifices allowed to flourish and mutate until they have a ‘justified’ place in life.  And in essence, this is at the very crux of Grace McCleen’s novel.  If a child is brought up without proper guidance, with just murky principles and an over-dependence on religion, then it’s so easy for things to get misconstrued and for it all to end up as one big psychological mess.  It’s an idea that’s certainly fertile ground for a tale.  The question is - just how far will McCleen push it?

The story is split into two distinct threads.  Firstly you have the perspective of Madeline Adamson in 2010 where she resides at Lethem Park Mental Infirmary.  This particular side of the story is very akin to the likes of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962), whereby the reader is immersed into the day-to-day life of a mental institution.  Here you have the usual patients who add a degree of colour to the picture, such as the quiet Brendan who instigates an uprising in the patients’ lunchtime.

The second thread is instigated by Dr Lucas’ revisiting of Madeline’s past in a hope to finally cure her.  Delivered via passages from Madeline’s diary from when she was an adolescent, as well as through Madeline re-living her past though hypnotism; this second and far more dominant thread follows young Madeline’s life from when they moved to the island, until that fateful night which ultimately brought about her mental collapse and psychological retreat.  And to be fair, McCleen effortlessly jumps between these two threads; not overly dwelling on one particular period for too long, yet still allowing aspects to flourish and drive the storyline forward.

If you hadn’t guessed it already, this is one depressing and bleak story, magnified by seeing it through the misguided and painfully innocent eyes of a lonely adolescent.  In fact, there are so very few moments of any joyful light in the novel that it ends up feeling like a constant blanket of woe which smothers the reader from start to finish.

Very, very surprisingly, characterisation is strangely weak.  Madeline is left only marginally sketched-out, even with her being the main focus of the entire story.  Her parents (two key players in the tale) although they have one hell of an impact on the storyline, are still just shadows of characters, without any lasting definition applied.  Furthermore, Dr Lucas is given a once over from when we (and Madeline) are first introduced to him, but after that, the character is left as little more than a tool in which to enable the story to be told.

The grand finale that the story has been working its way towards from the very outset becomes quite predictable from early on.  However, due in part to McCleen’s strong delivery, and also the time invested into establishing the final platform for the event; thankfully it doesn’t really lose any of its gut-wrenching impact.  In fact, the final couple of chapters tug at your heart-strings like there’s no tomorrow; ultimately laying down a truly sad and really quite depressing ending.

It’s a tough read, drenched in hardship and almost unending misery.  And I can’t say it’s not slow.  At times the pace becomes sludgy and grinding – with very little emerging from the quagmire of festering depression.  But luckily these moments are somewhat few and far between.  And ultimately the crushing finale makes it all worth preserving with.

The novel runs for a total of 259 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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