Cults—something readers associate with the barren countryside of America, lonely families tucked deep in the woods, cut off from all other civilisation. Yet Rebecca Stott’s wonderful creative non-fiction, In the Days of Rain, shows us that the reality is far from our shared perceptions. She takes us into the intricate and hidden world of an English cult – the Plymouth Brethren.
At the wish of her dying father, Stott manages to pull together the rich, colourful and troubled history of her early life in the Brethren, and her family’s importance as the overall recognisable face of the Church.
A Professor of a Creative Writing at UEA in Norwich – my own former university – Stott’s account prioritises personal impact above the simple desire to relay history. We get to know and love the characters who feature. We sympathise with the difficult decisions of her father, stand alongside her quiet, stoic mother, and weep for the Great Grandmother who is sent to an Australian mental asylum, a cruel ‘treatment’ for the epilepsy that plagued her life.
We also follow Stott as she makes her own journey through her muddled family history, discovering death, joy, division and love. She travels up and down the country in search of clues that might lead her further into the darkness of the early cult. She places herself in arguably difficult and dangerous situations as she attempts to track down remaining ex-members of the Brethren she was a part of, and even catches of a glimpse of some current practicing members.
Her writing is addictive and brings an already fascinating story to life. Stott is honest in her struggles and what she does not know or understand. The grounding character and force of the entire narrative is her father. They clearly have a complicated yet passionate and loving relationship, especially in his later years. Yet as Stott uncovers what exactly drove him to be the person he was, and ultimately what made him denounce almost of this in a heartbeat, we come to respect the difficult decisions and actually the fear her own, strong, domineering father had. This is something which is unique and often unexplored in such memoirs. Stott’s own position as his daughter, a confined Brethren member, and overall a talented storyteller, means we see all sides of the truth and are left to make up our own minds when it comes to topic of her father. But are we ever really meant to come down on one ‘side’?
As the text progresses, father and daughter’s memoirs become intertwined and muddled. We begin to see the differences and similarities of the two characters and just how much her father’s action influenced a pre-adolescent Stott.
We are given more of an insight into the mistreatment of women in the Brethren, a topic that I shamefully haven’t really considered or seen done well in various other literature or documentaries concerning cults. It is a confused and interesting idea that a community, which is taught to maintain the utmost respect for God and their faith, has little consideration for the women that tirelessly kept them going. Stott interjections and sometimes dedicated sections on the topic are filled with passion and written with such care.
This sense of learning as she is writing is felt throughout the memoirs, making for a cathartic experience not only (we presume) for Stott, but also for the reader. She invites us on her literary journey and we complete the full cycle of death, life and death again as we drift along her hazy prose. I say hazy as there are times in which it is. There are moments in which we fill so entirely within yet also outside the narrative – however this merely reflects the bubble environment that the Brethren created.
As a writer who uses my own life-experiences to inform my creative stories, a large part of me was connected to the obvious joys and difficulties that Stott witnessed to tell her father’s – and her – tale. A skilled and careful storyteller, the interjections of period objects, nature, the perfect way she projects the isolation of the cult all bought this fascinating story alive.
As a reader, I felt complete yet also emotionally empty at the texts finish. It is a whirlwind of a story, and a passionate one at that, which leaves the audience thankful for Stott’s beautiful prose.
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