The Austin Chronicle

New in Print

Reviewed by Nora Ankrum, August 28, 2009, Books

The Rapture: A Novel

by Liz Jensen
Doubleday, 304 pp., $25

Given the rather apocalyptic summer we're having, it's hard not to appreciate the opening lines of Liz Jensen's The Rapture: "June seemed to last for a thousand years. The temperature was merciless: ninety-eight, ninety-nine, then a hundred in the shade. It was heat to die in, to go nuts or to spawn in. ... The sky pressed down like a furnace lid, shrinking the subsoil, cracking concrete, killing shrubs from the roots up."

Jensen's not describing June in Austin, of course, where this year 98 degrees might have felt like relief. She's describing London in a not-so-distant future, as climate change is taking hold, storms are growing more violent, and the English are learning not to leave their homes without their sunglasses. What she's describing is a bona fide eco-thriller – and it's delicious. If you're into that sort of thing.

In the wake of a tragic accident, wheelchair-bound art therapist Gabrielle leaves London and her old life behind for a job in Hadport, England, where she agrees to counsel disturbed, matricidal teenager Bethany. Bethany, not surprisingly, is mean (her nickname for Gabrielle is "Wheels"). Plus, she has a knack for accurately predicting the details of large-scale weather disasters – of which there are plenty to go around. So Gabrielle spends her days putting up with scary Bethany and her evenings drinking wine and watching the news as scientists and activists clash with corporations and policy-makers, the religious fervor of the "Faith Wave" takes increasing hold, and the weather gets wackier and deadlier all the time. It's not that different from the real world, actually.

Then, Gabrielle meets sexy Scottish physicist (and fantastic chef) Frazer Melville. He happens to find Gabrielle H-O-T. He also has a talent for the sleuthing it will take to interpret Bethany's visions. "At what point," wonders Gabrielle, "did the physicist make the connection between Bethany's drawings and the most dangerous greenhouse gas of all?" No! Methane?! Could this mean ... the end of the world? Can the therapist, the physicist, and the teenager save the planet? Is climate change merely a welcome mat for the rapture? Is there a role in this cast for Jake Gyllenhaal? These questions go down best with a bottle of wine and the Weather Channel playing in the background.

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