Saturday 21 April 2018


In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Novelist Rebecca Stott was born into an Exclusive Brethren household. In this memoir she reveals the impact of her early life on herself and her family; in particular this is also Roger her father's story. Stott family had been Brethren for four generations, her father was a preacher and her forebears church leaders. Roger, on his deathbed, asks Rebecca to tell his story. He has a pressing need to put his past to rest and has been unable to write it himself. He keeps getting stuck on the ‘bad times’: the years of persecutions and reprisals, torment of which he sees himself guilty of. The Brethren in England had broken away from the church and community, which they saw as corrupt and controlled by Satan. Initially they were worshipers, conservative and devout. Women did work outside the home, mostly in Brethren businesses, and children did go to public schools. Yet the sect was always patriarchal, the place of women was subservient - never to speak at Meetings, not to have an opinion, and to heed their male leader of the home - and children obeyed strict rules. As society pushed against conservatism as a whole, the sect become stricter. In the 1960s the biggest change occurred when an upheaval in leadership placed Jim Taylor Junior at the head of the church. Draconian and fanatical, he took this sect of the Exclusive Brethren to a whole new level, writing new texts for the members and putting in place more prayer meetings, higher expectations of worship, and cruel punishments (predominately isolation and exhausting visits from spiritual leaders) for those that were deemed to be unworthy or not adhering to minor strictures. Small things like not eating with non-Brethren had huge impact on children at schools and split families between Brethren and non-Brethren. Disallowing members to belong to professional associations lead to many losing their jobs and forsaking their careers. Brethren business and employment within the Brethren community was the only option, further isolating members, and higher education was banned. Jim Taylor’s hold was paramount and Stott’s father, Roger, despite his education and sometimes unorthodox behaviour, fell under its spell. In 1970, the 'Aberdeen Affair' would change everything for the Stott family. A sex scandal rocked the church and Roger, his father and many other family members left the group. 8000 members walked out across the Exclusive Brethren world, most joining other sects or forming breakaway groups. The Stotts did this for a few years before leaving the Exclusive Brethren completely. For Rebecca at twelve her world was turned on its ear. Going to school and watching her fellow classmates blithely enjoying their lives was a mystery to her - a child brought up to believe in the rottenness of the world, that Satan was truly alive and well in the wickedness around her, and to hold an overwhelming belief that the Rapture was just around the corner - what would happen now that she wasn't one of the chosen? Stott writes with immense clarity, striking emotion, and empathy for her father (who became a womaniser, a gambler and was eventually jailed for embezzlement), and with honesty about her childhood years, revealing the unnecessary tragedies (like that of her great-grandmother, hospitalised in a psychiatric unit for forty years for having fits and being too ‘willful’) and misconceptions of a cult, the leaders who carry responsibilities and crimes upon their shoulders, and the ordinary families adrift within and outside the cult. While all her immediate family left the church, the impact of their involvement is telling, and particularly so in her father Roger. Winning of the 2017 Costa Biography Award, this is a remarkable memoir - gripping and eloquent. 

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