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Christ on a Bike

A twisty psychological tale of envy, materialism and neurosis

Seemingly set to wear the generation rent label into middle age, Cerys is stuck on the London treadmill of extortionate rents and squishing on the Central Line every morning for the pleasure of working a 50-hour week. Her uptight sister, Seren, believes Cerys is doomed to an impoverished old age due to sheer imprudence. Everything changes one drizzly day in Wales, when an act of kindness on Cerys’ part results in her inheriting a fabulous coastal property and a generous income for life. There is, of course, a grimly clever catch, and Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen presents a twisty psychological tale of envy, materialism and neurosis.

The story opens in Wales, at the funeral of Seren’s mother-in-law, Gwen, beloved by all. For Seren, there’s some consolation in the financial inheritance she anticipates for her family, a notion she’s swiftly disabused of the following day at the solicitor’s office. It appears that Gwen had taken up an equity release scheme to fund a string of lavish holidays, leaving the family a decidedly meagre sum, an act that destabilises  her already brittle daughter-in-law.

Witnessing Seren’s post-solicitor tantrums on the subject, Cerys takes herself off for a restorative walk, happening  across an open coffin in the local church and a sign.

‘This is the body of Thomas Morgan. He died with no friends or family alive. If you have been kind enough to say a prayer for him, please leave your details…’

Brimming with compassion, Cerys does just that, and in a delicious twist of fate, later discovers that Mr Morgan was a very wealthy gentleman indeed, and his entire estate has been bequeathed to those who prayed for his soul. As the only person to do so this leaves Cerys the owner of a glorious glass-fronted house in Pembrokeshire, with a car, and an extremely comfortable annual income.

The catch? She cannot share her wealth with anyone and visitors may stay for no longer than three days at a time. All financial aspects of her life will be scrutinised by Morgan’s solicitor.

Deciding that these are minor points, Cerys launches herself into a new Welsh life, complemented by much prosecco quaffing, deluxe chocolate snuffling, and endless retail therapy, waiting for her busy London friends to find time to visit her, while in the background a herd of little worries begin to gather.

Owen’s clever, offbeat novel makes incisive comments on our modern materialistic lives and is laced with darkness.

Often Cerys feels like she’s being watched through the large windows of her new home, but Morgan’s solicitor insists that she cannot install blinds, and several times she spots a young man on a bike covertly observing her. Bearded and dressed in red, he reminds her of Jesus, his random appearances prompting a niggling unease.

Meanwhile, her sister seethes with envy, damaging thoughts tunnelling into her brain like hyper-active worms. If not carefully removed, ‘the half that was left in you would go manky and septic. It would poison your blood, destroy your brain.’

Spiralling to a startling denouement, in Owen’s inspired, shape-shifting tale, toxicity takes several forms. A compelling read.

Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen is published by Bluemoose Books, 260 pages.

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