Summary: Abbe is a restless young mother living on the outskirts of Honolulu with her husband, Greg, the pastor at a small church. Their lives are suddenly riven by tragedy when their three-year-old daughter, Cleo, is struck and killed by car. As Greg turns to God and community for comfort, Abbe turns inward and reflects upon her own troubled past. Isla Morley brilliantly weaves the story of Abbe’s grief with a gripping tale of her tempestuous childhood in apartheid South Africa---and how Abbe’s father, a villainous drunk, held her family hostage for decades with his rage, until they finally began to plot their escape from him. Come Sunday is a spellbinding drama about a woman breaking free of her grief and of her past, and what it takes to revive hope when all seems lost. -- Picador
COME SUNDAY by Isla Morley was a very interesting read for me. For much of the book, I wasn't sure that I even liked the book; and I knew that I definitely didn't like the main character Abbe. But then, something happened about halfway through the book, and I became very enamored with the entire story. Upon finishing the book, I came to the conclusion that COME SUNDAY was an excellent book. (I'm not alone in my praise -- COME SUNDAY was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the premier South African literary award, the Sunday Times Literary Award.)
I can't even begin to talk about COME SUNDAY without mentioning the character Abbe. To be honest, I had a very difficult time with her for almost the entire novel. There were times when I couldn't stand her. I realize that I might sound very harsh because Abbe lost a child and I know how devastating that would be to anyone, but she was so incredibly bitter and spiteful. And I just couldn't accept the way she treated her husband because I thought he sounded like a wonderful man. It wasn't until the end of the novel that I was able to forgive Abbe (if you will) for her actions. While I might not have agreed with how she handled much of what happened to her, I eventually accepted that she was just doing the best she could given her past.
Despite my issues with Abbe, it didn't hinder my appreciation of this novel. I think one of the main reasons this book was so good has to do with Ms. Morley's writing. She is truly a gifted storyteller. Her writing is very lyrical and I'm not always a fan of that style, but I enjoyed her beautiful prose and descriptions. In addition, the way was she evoked certain feelings in me (both good and bad) really says something about her skills. I wouldn't hesitate to read another novel by Ms. Morley.
COME SUNDAY is one of those books that haunted me while I read it and I think it will continue to do so for quite awhile. Of course, losing a child is something no parent ever wants to face; however, so much of Abbe's life affected me -- her childhood, her friends, her marriage, her feelings about being a pastor's wife, her spirituality, her past, her anger and even her guilt. She was such a troubled soul and it was painful at times to see how bitter she was with everything in her life. Abbe was in so much pain that she was actually self-destructive as well as hurtful to others. (And that was one of my issues with Abbe -- she was consciously destructive to others!)
I found it interesting that the author chose to divide the books into sections based on the religious calendar. Even more interesting to me was how she tied the story into these periods. I thought religion was a huge theme in this novel especially since Abbe was married to a pastor while at the same time struggling with her beliefs. There were also many other themes tied into religion including death, communion, sacrifice, salvation, and forgiveness.
I also really appreciated how the author included so much information about South Africa. Abbe was originally from South Africa and I think her time there was a huge factor in her life. I found it extremely interesting to learn about South Africa, its people and its culture. And I actually think my favorite part of the book was when Abbe returned home and began her healing process. There is just so much to think about in this novel as it relates to South Africa and the country's racial issues.
COME SUNDAY has to be one of the most discussion-worthy books that I've read in recent memory. I absolutely love how much if affected me -- and it definitely wasn't entirely positive. I would love to discuss Abbe's behavior and mental state because I found her fascinating (if not entirely likable.) However, there are so many themes covered in this novel that you could think about and talk about for hours. A reading guide is available which might help to keep discussion on track because if you're anything like me, there will be a million things you want to address. Some of the topics for discussion include marriage, love, parenthood, loss, grief, joy, hope, racial issues, religion/spirituality, healing, acceptance and forgiveness. I also found quite a few "symbols" that I think warrant some discussion.
While I didn't always find COME SUNDAY an easy read, I do believe that it is a very worthwhile read. If you are a fan of literary women's fiction, then I highly recommend it.
Thanks to Diane Saarinen for sending me a review copy of this novel. Make sure you come back tomorrow because I will be giving away a copy of COME SUNDAY.