book review – Captain Jesus

Portrayed with beguiling tenderness, Captain Jesus follows the faltering footsteps of a young family through the most enormous upheaval. It captures the love and resilience of families in arresting, poignant detail … a potent cocktail of grief and hope.

That’s the dangerous thing about memories; no matter how well wrapped and hidden we keep them, one small chink of light on the most obscure corners of our carefully archived experience can cast a floodlight so powerful that the drip becomes a trickle and then a torrent before we know it.

what it says on the cover …

When three brothers find a dead magpie and peg it to the washing line, the resurrection re-enactment becomes a portent of tragedy to come, and a reminder of past guilt and trauma. In Captain Jesus we see a family struggle to cope as loss rips through their lives; through the teenage eyes of their mother, twenty years earlier, we glimpse the events that shape her response. The icons, influences and family histories that define faith connect the two narratives as the family gradually heals, thanks to the quietness of love and the natural world.

SHELF: literary fiction | grief | faith
MY RATING: ★★★★☆
AUTHOR: Colette Snowden
PUBLISHER: Bluemoose Books
FORMATS: Paperback | Kindle
AVAILABLE: from 28th January 2021

my review

Captain Jesus is a courageous book that almost intrusively follows a family’s struggle through the horrors of grief and loss.  There are two stories being played-out here; the present-day is narrated by Jim, whilst teenage Marie recounts her own story some twenty years earlier.  Both stories are narrated with the simplicity and untainted naivety of a child’s outlook, exposing some emotionally bruising events with breathtaking starkness.  

As is to be expected from the book’s title, the concept of faith permeates every aspect of this story.  As an agnostic, I was relieved to discover this particular theme wasn’t over-bearing in any way.  In fact, I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of faith being cast in such close proximity to the pagan superstition of magpies as a source of luck; in this case, bad luck.

Jim is a wonderful, hugely lovable character.  At just ten years old, he’s the eldest child of Marie and James, and brother to John-Joe and Gabe; a band of brothers whose primary concerns in life revolve around biscuits, eating icing off the spoon, climbing trees, and being allowed to stay up late.  Their closeness is thoroughly absorbing and hugely enjoyable to follow, and through Jim’s narration it’s clear to see this is a close-knit family.

With the imminent arrival of baby Anna, the family are in a bucolic nesting state, watched over with a matronly indulgence by their neighbour, Jenny.  The positivity and compassion of Jenny cannot be over-emphasised, and when the young family are plunged into the shocking trauma of grief, her quiet ministrations are as cathartic for the family as they are for the reader.  We’re not party to her heart-to-hearts with Anna, but I loved the dynamic between the two women; the reassuring acceptance of each other’s imperfections.

At first glance, the early chapters of the book have an idyllic feel to them; a cheeky day off school to enjoy a picnic in the garden on an unexpectedly sunny spring day; helping Nanna with her Christmas decorations; baking and icing cakes with their heavily-pregnant Mum.  But as each chapter progresses there is a growing sense of unease, and the comfortable warmth of childhood nostalgia is replaced by something altogether too bewildering for a ten year old boy to rationalise.   

The catastrophic aftermath that follows the loss of a life is written with piercing insight.  At times I struggled to read Jim’s heartbreakingly frank chapters, particularly the letters he writes to Father Christmas, and the degree of guilt he’s holding on such young shoulders.  Likewise, I initially found myself recoiling at some of Marie’s reactions to her family’s loss, but as her own teenage chapters developed – and after a particularly harrowing outing to buy the boys their smart funeral outfits – so too did my compassion towards her.

Captain Jesus is a thought-provoking novel that packs a powerful, emotional punch.  In the hands of Colette Snowden, this heartbreaking tale has a profoundly positive energy.  Its enveloping messages of strength, hope and empathy soothe the parts of your heart that will be made to feel a little raw.

This book will undoubtedly give your emotions a thorough workout! If, like me, you’re a lover of books that leave an emotional tattoo, then Captain Jesus is your next must-read.

Thank you to Collette for sending me advance proof copy of Captain Jesus in return for an honest review.

colette snowden

Colette Snowden was born and raised in Manchester and read Medieval History in St Andrews and Bordeaux. After spending a year in Bulgaria teaching English, she returned to Manchester and began a career in public relations.

Colette’s short story BLUE was broadcast on Radio 4 in 2002 and her first child was born soon afterwards, at which point she stopped writing fiction for several years. She began writing again to enter a First Three Chapters competition with Manchester-based writer development organisation, Commonword. She won the competition and completed the novel, which became The Secret To Not Drowning.

Colette lives in Manchester with her three children and works as a freelance PR and copywriter.

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