Stephanie, a single mother, lives a dreary existence with her daughter Judith. Working in a coffee shop and getting pissed every so often is, it would seem, as exciting as it will ever get for Stephanie. Meanwhile, Judith, her precocious 12 year old, goes to school and has her friend Megan round for tea. A future lawyer in the making, she is always asking questions. And that endless curiosity which children have, which most adults sadly lose, is really what is at the crux of The Followers. If you stop asking questions, you lose not only that curiosity, but also self esteem and identity. You stop thinking your voice deserves to be heard. You become vulnerable to those seeking followers. And what does a manipulator, a leader of cults, need but recognition and worship from such followers?
Enter gorgeous and charismatic Nathaniel. Everyone in Stephanie’s coffee shop fancies him, but it turns out he only fancies Stephanie. They begin to date, and soon he makes an offer to Stephanie of a new life for Judith and her. But there’s a catch: they must leave their old life behind. Forever.
Once they arrive at the Ark, Stephanie, being needy and vulnerable, adjusts fairly well. Despite questioning the fact that the women never leave, and that Nathaniel appears to have clandestine night time activities, she soon learns to stop asking questions. Judith, however, is not so ready to accept this new life. She refuses the new name she is offered, makes only a feeble attempt at adopting the Ark’s zealous religiosity and even tries to run away. What’s more, the arrival of Judith and Stephanie sets in place a chain of events, the repercussions of which both women will struggle with for years.
I had never really thought very much about cults before I read this book. Sure, I’d heard of Charles Manson, and I remember vaguely some plot involving cults on Eastenders years ago. But Wait has proven to me in this novel that despite there being nothing glamorous or heroic about them, anyone can fall victim to their charms.
I devoured the final 2/3 of The Followers today, and my partner will testify to the fact that I’ve not talked so much about a novel for ages. This is even better than The View on the Way Down: I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Many thanks to Francesca Main at Picador for the review copy.