See You in September by Charity Norman – 2017

See you in SeptemberCassy has a typical love/hate relationship with her parents, especially her ex-army Dad, and she is well on the way to completing a Law Degree when she and her ambitious boyfriend Hamish decide to go off on a short trip to New Zealand, to fill the gap between a friend’s wedding and heading back to varsity.  At Heathrow, she promises her family she will see them in September.  But a fall out with Hamish and an offer of a lift from a friendly band of ‘hippies’ sees Cassy spend years in Gethsemane, a commune/cult not far from Rotorua.  The novel is structured with two and bit streams – one from Cassy’s POV, the second that of her devastated family, and there are some quotes from The Cult Leader’s Manual, written by an anthropologist specialising in destructive cults.  Although this book tells a predictable tale, it does so in a very suspenseful and ambiguous way – and there were a number of times when I was ready to pack my bags and head off to Gethsemane!  I was sure I knew what lay ahead for Cassy (or the woman formally known as Cassy – renaming being part of the package) but her story is so carefully told that I became totally enmeshed in her ‘present’, and I was kept guessing throughout the book whether Gethsemane and its leader, Justin Calvin, were really that bad compared to the ghastly events unfolding ‘outside’.  The depiction of the destruction of her family back in England is appalling, especially the effect of her choices on her younger sister – but isn’t that because her family just refused to believe all the wonderful things they are told about Cassy’s new home?  Even by the Private Detective they hire?  We are told we are living at the most peaceful time in human history, but it is kind of hard to believe with all the bad news bombarding us every day – and there have been a lot of earthquakes lately …  I don’t want to give too much away, as I was still questioning right up to the end of the book, but Charity Norman does a great job of making bizarre human behaviour seem perfectly reasonable.  I really enjoyed this book.

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