Friday, July 5, 2019

Book Review: 'The Ultimate Religion' by Gillian Dance

The Ultimate Religion by Gillian Dance
A miscegenation of beliefs and realities 

British author Gillian Dance studied English Literature and Linguistics and works from home as a copy editor and ghostwriter. THE ULTIMATE RELIGION is her debut novel. She lives in Devon, England. 

Though the public is aware of isolated cult religions such as Jim Jones’ People Temple and the Kool-Aid suicides of 918 people in Guyana in 1978, few other religious cults have gained such notoriety. Author Gillian Dance offers a story told in the first person so convincingly that the reader feels drawn into the lead character Megan’s life, making the book seem a memoir! Her story opens a portal to the machinations and passionate followers of one such fundamentalist Christian cult, and in writing and in this manner she offers a staggeringly real sense of how these cults thrive. 

Early on in this novel the abused character of Megan relates her family life, allowing us to identify with the experiences the novel shares: ‘Tessa {Megan’s sister], had a forceful and dominant personality, what started with her being my protector grew into controlling possession. Watching me all the time, preventing strangers getting close to me, speaking for me when I was addressed. Though I didn’t realise that as a small girl, or the impact of that on me until many years later, I developed a form of social phobia. Whenever there were more than one or two people around me, especially people whom I didn’t know, I would clam up and find myself unable to speak, crippled with awkwardness. Tessa always knew what to say, she had a natural cool, knew instinctively how to be. She was a lovely person in many ways, but she also cast a shadow over my life. I first understood that when the pastor of an Evangelical church, that Tessa got us involved in in our teens, pointed it out to me. When we were almost grown she was beautiful, I was too, but I didn’t have the confidence and ease with myself that she did. In particular, I didn’t understand sexuality, the power of it, the purpose of it. I don’t think I was even aware of it, in my teenage years I continued playing sports and loving books the way I always had as a child. I lived in jeans and cosmetics were foreign to me…’

This manner of relating the story of a girl who grew into that conundrum of reality of love versus miracles of promise, and the manner in which she navigates her life in a world of religious fanaticism with the rather unexpected sexism, social control, gender issues, abuse, and borderline mental behavior is both startling and compassionate in nature. The sentinel issues is belief – what is it, how far from reality can it be, how safe is the investment, and what are the consequences. It all comes together in Gillian’s masterful writing, and the result is a book that is more than just a fine piece of writing: this is a book that is enlightening and alerting of sub rosa challenging themes. A fascinating novel! 





Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.






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