I recently finished reading Jill Paton Walsh’s Lapsing. The book follows Tessa, a young Catholic woman, through 50’s Oxford. With a title like that, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the she loses her faith eventually. What I liked about this book was how well it evoked the strangeness of growing up, and particularly, the dissociation of losing one’s faith.
<lj-cut text=”The colours change”>
Though any photographer knows how the light changes all the live-long day, how various it is under every passing cloud, in every different climate, latitude, season, hour, for most people the medium of seeing is invisible – a constant white. We can hardly believe that the fabric samples, carefully matched under the lamplight, can so treacherously clash by daylight. “The colours change”, we say. Just so, for the most part, we treat our own consciousness, by whose flickering light we view the world, as an invisible medium seeing: its quirks and tints, and shadows, and changes of hue simply projected as changes in the world outside. Eagerly and hungrily viewing the whole world, the young particularly treat themselves as the invisible constant – though retrospective understanding will later illuminate every one of their friends, enemies, companions – it will always be hardest to find for themselves. Whatever thoughts and actions seem most entirely natural will occasion the most astonished incomprehension later; later everyone’s behaviour will seem explicable except one’s own; and thinking back across the years, Tessa will, of course, be able to see clearly everyone in the circle except herself.
The person I was is out there for all to see, but though I know in abstract what drives evangelicals as a group, my own inner life from that time is alien to me. There are occasional echoes brought on by a song or a sunny day, but I don’t know why I thought what I thought or felt what I felt.
The book’s characters are well described, for all the brevity of some of the cameo roles (which perhaps reflects the rush of Oxbridge life and the protagonists’ own self-involvement). The portrayal of religion is realistic and sympathetic, although the feeling of a lapser is well described too. Catholics named Theresa might enjoy the book 🙂