Culture Street


The Offering by Grace McCleen

On February 16, 2015

By Sophia Whitfield

McCleen uses misguided faith as a backdrop to her most recent novel. Set in Letham Park Mental Infirmary it centres on Madeline, a patient in her 30s who has been incarcerated since the age of 14.

Through a series of flashbacks during sessions with Dr Lucas, Madeline reveals her heartbreaking childhood. Dr Lucas hypnotises Madeline in an attempt to prove that his experimental treatments work. But Madeline is on the brink of something, close to falling into an abyss. Her memories reveal a lonely and frightening childhood.

Her father, a lay preacher, moves his wife and daughter (Madeline) to an island where they initially enjoy an idyllic lifestyle. He preaches to the locals, none of whom want to know about his faith. As he struggles to find work and to feed his family, the life they thought would be bountiful soon turns sour.

Madeline’s mother struggles to live in an isolated environment where her daughter has to be home schooled. Her moods oscillate depending on whether her husband has work. Some days they have no food to eat except apples.

When the father isn’t working he rips up the kitchen floor, pulling things apart that should be left alone. As things go from bad to worse, the elements add their own drama with rain pouring into the house for days on end.

Every night Madeline and her mother listen to her father reading from the Bible. Days unfold according to the mood and temperament of the father. Most days Madeline doesn’t despair, she is sure that God will help them.

Years later it becomes evident that a tragic event has caused Madeline’s breakdown. But she is still unable to get away from the godly figures that have presided over her life. As a child her life was dictated by her father, now it is Dr Lucas.

Acutely observed, The Offering captures the horrifying reality of life in a mental infirmary. From over medicated patients to those who are enduring experimental treatments.

The Offering is a haunting novel about the consequences of misguided belief.

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