Chosen, By Lesley Glaister
Published 21/05/2010 | 14:06
In a 20-year career, Lesley Glaister has written several novels in which the lives of outwardly ordinary people, dwelling in a precisely rendered realistic world, have been distorted and tested to destruction.
Chosen begins with a welter of domestic detail that in lesser hands would be the usual dull paraphernalia that litters many novels in lieu of action. But here the detail defines character and assumes a sinister significance: "A thin layer of dust has settled on the rosy wood of the table. How quickly it gathers. She slides her finger through it, makes a trail through Stella's skin cells."
This takes place the day after Dodie has found her mother, Stella, hanging in the hallway of her neglected house. Dodie's own life is coming apart. Her younger brother, Seth, only 16, has gone off alone to New York, supposedly to stay with relatives. Her partner, Rod, has informed her that has has "met someone" and is going to leave her.
When a letter arrives from Seth signing himself off as "Yours in the Lord" and addressed from the Soul-Life commune in New York State, she persuades Rod to look after their baby son, Jake, while she flies to the US to find out what has happened to her brother. Dodie is met at the commune – a building curiously devoid of windows and with locked internal doors – by kindly Martha. Seth is at another centre but, Dodie is assured, will arrive the next day.
She is persuaded to stay – and falls into a horrible trap. Drugged, subject to what members of the cult call "The Process", she is gradually brain-washed by a combination of drugs, meditation and the sinister humming cult members use to obliterate memory or thought, into remaining with them. A series of increasingly bizarre events unfolds, culminating in the unexpected arrival of Rod and Jake.
By now we are less than half way through the book. The narrative is taken up by Melanie, sister of Stella. We return to 1974 and her first meeting with the hippy lay-about, Bogart, who on an acid-trip has a vision of his holy destiny and founds the Soul-Life church in a squat in London. Bogart is repulsively charismatic, looking to Melanie "like Jesus or Cat Stevens"; a pretty apt summary of the intellectual confusion of the 1970s. Melanie falls in love with him and her manipulation echoes the chilling account of the erosion of personality in all Bogart's disciples. The story of the growth of the cult into a multi-million pound business, the involvement of Stella, the traps that are laid into the future for her children, Dodie and Seth, and the exciting and tragic denouement, make this an excellent and genuinely convincing psychological thriller.