Carys Bray - A Song For Issy Bradley (4 stars)

Bray's debut is an intimate examination of grief and the Mormon faith, with a surprisingly funny edge

Carys Bay - A Song For Issy Bradley

Deftly juggling five characters' perspectives, Carys Bray's first novel is an intimate portrait of grief and faith – but it's also sharply funny. Read it if you want to know what a 'dirty sandwich licker' is.

Issy Bradley, the youngest daughter in a devout Mormon family, dies suddenly. In a fog of depression, her mother retires to bed and won't get up – leaving her earnest Mormon bishop husband and their three remaining children to agonise over Issy's death and question the strength of their beliefs.

Bray herself was brought up in a Mormon family in Merseyside before leaving the church in her early 30s, and she also lost a child to illness. Many of the book's strongest scenes have the bitter sting of authenticity. Condolence card messages sent to the Bradleys are painfully, realistically inappropriate, and church teaching sessions on chastity and the sanctity of marriage – taught only to young women – are depressingly believable.

Her prose could occasionally be leaner, but Bray is a bold writer. And for all its sadness, A Song for Issy Bradley is an embracing, life-affirming read.

Published by Windmill, out now

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