The Offering – Grace McCleen – Review



“A stunning novel about faith, innocence and sin, the tale of an unusual rite of passage with terrible consequences by the prize-winning young author of The Land of Decoration.

I thought it began the day Father came home without work. Then I thought perhaps it really began the day we arrived at the farm, rumbled up the track, opened the gate and stood looking around as if we had found ourselves in some enchanted land . . .

Something happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, something so traumatic that it triggered her mental breakdown. Many years later, she still can’t – or perhaps won’t – recall the events of that night.

A charismatic new psychiatrist, Dr Lucas, believes he can unlock Madeline’s memory by taking her step by step through the preceding year, when her father moved the family to an island he was certain God had guided them to.

Money was short, her mother often unwell and her father a volatile presence. Yet Madeline loved their rural idyll, sensing God in every blade of grass; and when things started to go wrong, she thought she knew how to put them right. But as Dr Lucas unearths the past, it becomes apparent that she was seriously misguided – and that he is treading on very dangerous ground.

Lyrically evoking the rhythms and beauty of the natural world, The Offering is a novel taut with foreboding, a haunting tale of misplaced faith and a heartbreakingly damaged psyche.”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via their #bethefirst campaign on Twitter which allows winners of Twitter competitions to have early access to certain titles.

Madeline is incarcerated in a mental asylum, having lived there for over 20 years, she has come to accept her life in an institution. One day a new doctor, Dr Lucas, decides to try to unlock memories of what happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, and with it, gives hope to Madeline that she may one day be released. As the treatment progresses Madeline struggles with memories that re-emerge and wonders if the promise of release is worth the pain the memories trigger.

There is an air of melancholy and detachedness that runs through this novel. This reflects Madeline’s outlook on the world, she has detached herself from the outside world, so long ago now she cannot, or will not remember why.

Whilst religion runs through this book it less about every day beliefs and more about religious zealotry and dogma. It plays a major part in Madeline’s breakdown, though it is unclear whether it is because of her religious indoctrination that her breakdown plays out as it does, or despite it. As the story develops and the more we learn of her parents, it becomes clear that although her upbringing is unusual, and will have affected her mental state, Madeline’s condition may also have been hereditary. However, Madeline is an unreliable narrator and we can never be sure what is fact and what is fiction. This is not an easy read, and part of that has to be intentional and due to the fact that Madeline is such an unreliable narrator.

What I did find shocking was how those with a mental illness were treated in the institution. There was a distinct lack of rehabilitation apparent, it appeared more like the patients were inmates and spent most of the time drugged to keep them compliant. It was more reminiscent of how one would imagine such patients were treated in the past than in the 21st Century.

I struggled with the book at times. Not because of all the religious connotations, I let these wash over me, but more with the language fourteen year old Madeline uses in her diary entries. This was not the language I would assume, rightly or wrongly, would come easily and naturally to a teenager on the brink of puberty. I found myself more interested in the older Madeline, and how she was responding to treatment than to the younger Madeline and her journey to being institutionalised.

When it comes, the release Madeline gains, is perhaps not the one she thought she was seeking, but the one she needed nonetheless.

In summary a book I found equally interesting, frustrating, uncomfortable and thought-provoking.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. This sounds interesting and reminds me a little of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell which has similar themes.


    1. janetemson says:

      I’ve not read that but heard good things. It was a difficult book to review. If you read it I’ll be interested to see what you think 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. lonesomereadereric says:

    I was really interested reading your thoughts as I was really tempted to read this novel. It sounds like a harrowing read. The “voice” of an adolescent is so difficult to get right. Thanks for the considered review.


    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks very much. It is harrowing in part, it generated a mixture of emotions, which made it a difficult review to write. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read it.


  3. I enjoyed her debut novel a lot, it was very inventive, I’m not sure I’d rush to read this one though it does sound interesting.


    1. janetemson says:

      It was the first one of hers I’ve read. I may try her others but not until the TBR is reduced. I have a feeling fundamentalism is a recurring theme.


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