Author: Charity Norman
Charity Norman writes compelling tales that make you think, keep you guessing and capture the mind and the heart; this is the third of her books I have read and her back list is definitely on my wish list.
See You In September tackles intriguing subject matter that isn’t common so I knew I was in for something different right from the start. Cults are a subject I have heard about but never really explored; I know about WACO and a little about Manson but that was well before my time, there’s a few others that I know of but not really about and I remember a Home and Away storyline involving a cult. I know how they operate but Norman takes us deep inside to really understand the workings.
Cassy is a young woman heading off to holiday in Thailand and explore New Zealand in the lead-up to her best friend’s wedding. She is heading off with her boyfriend of two years and they are due back just days before she is due to stand as bridesmaid in her best friend and bridezilla’s wedding. On the way to the airport there is an argument with her father and the tension is thick when she gets on the plane.
Cassy blew a collective kiss at them. ‘See you in September,’ she said. A throwaway line. Just words, uttered casually by a young woman in a hurry. And then she’d gone.
On a New Zealand highway in the rain while hitching to Taupo things escalate between Cassy and Hamish; their holiday has been showing the cracks in their relationship and their fundamental differences but it all crashes down when they are offered a lift in a rundown white van and Hamish refuses to take it. Cassy accepts the ride and leaves Hamish on the highway in the rain, planning to meet up with him in Taupo the next day.
The van is filled with happy people of various ages, dressed similarly and offering warmth and comfort. It started with the offer of a lift to Rotorua but she ended up accepting the offer of a bed and a hot meal in a farming community for the night and a lift back in the morning.
The farming community of Gethsemane is all about sustainability and living off grid, situated on the banks of a lake in the shadow of a volcano on 500 acres of land donated by an old couple. The setting is idyllic, picture postcard peaceful perfection. No electronics, no technology and no real contact with the outside world. There is one computer locked away in the office with patchy internet connection, only to be used under supervision and with permission. The community runs courses and holds stalls but for the most part remain in their secluded slice of paradise.
The setting is idyllic, the community is welcoming and the peace is palpable so it isn’t hard to believe that she is slowly convinced to extend her stay a little bit at a time until she puts off the trip to Taupo completely.
There are excerpts from a manual beginning some chapters that allow us an insight into how cult leaders attract their followers and we see these findings in action as Cassy is convinced to stay in Gethsemane and settles into her new life.
The story is told from two perspectives as we live vicariously through Cassy in her new life and head back to England to follow the fallout in her family after she decides not to return.
Cassy is an intelligent and happy young woman from a good family that loves her, her life views are a little different from theirs but that’s often the way in families. Norman has explored the ways in which an intelligent and strong young woman can be convinced to join a community like this. Like everyone, Cassy wants to be loved and accepted for who she is and the community at Gethsemane are more than welcoming. She is far from home and everyone who knows her, it is easy to remember things slightly differently from this distance and I was fascinated by the look into her mind and the changes wrought on it, the way that even she seems to see two very distinct personas in herself.
Norman has expertly explored the techniques employed to retain visitors to the valley and allowed us to get to know community leader Justin while still retaining some of his mystery. I am still left curious about him, I want to know why and I want to know more about what makes him tick. Having said that, if I had all those answers it would take away the mystery of him and make it harder to put myself in their community; that sense of mystery and not knowing all about him is necessary for the ‘magic’ of his leadership.
See You In September is an intricate and disturbing venture into the depths of a cult; what draws you in and what keeps you there. It’s also a look into family, friendship, faith and the state of the world. Compelling reading and a disturbing snapshot of the world between 2010 and 2016 when you filter out all but the worst news; it’s all devastating weather events, terrorist attacks and murder. It’s no wonder people are willing to believe in the Last Days of humanity.