A writer rehearses her girlhood in a strict religious cult, the Exclusive Brethren, and how that group affected her family life.
Stott has emerged from her harsh, restrictive youth to write some well-received books (Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution, 2012, etc.) and to become a commentator on BBC Radio (radio was prohibited in her house) and a professor (Literature and Creative Writing/Univ. of East Anglia). In childhood, as she shows us clearly and painfully, such a future was inconceivable. She was in the fourth generation of family members belonging to the Exclusive Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian group—they still exist, though in different configurations—that instilled in her a profound fear of Satan and of disobeying approved practices. Although the author tells her own story, her father’s experiences receive far more than equal time. He left the Brethren when Stott was a young girl and became a ferocious reader, an actor in local theatrical productions, an adulterer (he later remarried), a gambler, and, sadly, embezzler (he spent some months in prison). Among the most wrenching scenes in a volume that has many are Stott’s stories about her father’s gambling (his pathetic roulette “system”) and her own unmooring from what she had always thought certain. She began having dark dreams and had difficulty adapting to her father’s new passions for radio, film, and theater. What eventually rescued her—as it did, in some ways, her father—were books. She became a voracious reader and a curious and eventually admiring investigator of the theories of Darwin, who, she had learned earlier, was an emissary of Satan. Her father had written an unfinished memoir, a project she vowed to complete when he died. The final six weeks of his life provide part of Stott’s narrative framework.
A troubling yet compelling story of childhood deprivation, liberation, and, ultimately, hope.