DAZZLING DARKNESS by Rachel Mann
Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
Guitar-wielding philosopher pieces together the tale of discovering her faith and changing her sex in the 1990s and becoming a poet and a vicar in the early 2000s.
What year or edition?
Published in 2014 by Wild Goose Publications.
What’s your verdict?
Just wonderful. This is a memoir told through essays that grapple with some very tricky topics – from gender reassignment surgery and ‘passing’ as a woman, to the pitfalls of starting off on confessional poetry, to the arcane workings of ancient prejudices within the established church. It’s all told with panache and wit, as well as a certain good-humoured academic rigour.
Did it work for you?
It’s a book that takes us cheerily and fearlessly into some very dark days and brings us out again, feeling amazed that the author’s been through so much stuff and faced it so doughtily and successfully. It's dizzyingly erudite, honest, profane, pithy and delightful. The description of a Crohn's diagnosis as being 'shat on by god' is fantastic. All the religious stuff makes sense to a heathen like me, too. For once, reading a book on God, I can see why all this stuff works for the writer.
What genre would you say it is?
It’s a spiritual autobiography. Or it’s a book about a sex change and the way gender and stuff works out. Or a book that blends theory, memoir and poetry. It’s a book of both theory and practice. It’s all of this, but it’s a book about how to become yourself – like all the best memoirs are - and how you’ve got to keep on working at it.
What surprises did it hold – if any?
Many. That the religious stuff was as interesting as it was – all this business of wrangling with a ‘dark’ and ‘living’ god, and how none of that was cosy or self-congratulatory. There were surprises of form, too – in the way we got little nuggets of philosophy, or early poems, and at once point a smattering of fiction, in a kind of Sara Maitland-style biblical-moment interlude. All of this is fun – the switching of gears throughout the book.
Which scene will stay with you?
At the very end the narrator returns home and imagines coming face to face with her younger self at twenty – the guitar playing puckish character hanging out in the wood with his pals. There’s a lovely moment of connection across the years as they acknowledge each other.
Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
That’s a funny question for this one, because I was at university with the author. It reminds me of her as she was then, and has brought me up to date.
What will you do with this copy now?
It was a gift. We went out for coffee and an uproarious afternoon of catching up what’s been going on in the last twenty years. We swapped copies of our memoirs! That’s the kind of thing you do when you get to 45, I guess. This is a book to treasure.
Is it available today?
Yes, from Wild Goose Publications www.ionabooks.com
Give me a good quote:
“…this God who gives voice to the excluded and is in their voice is troubling and uncomfortable – both personally and socially. For the first time I properly embraced a love which suggests that not only are trans people, gay people, the chronically ill and so on the beloved of God, but that God is trans and gay and chronically ill and a woman and everything else.”