June 01, 1987 12:00 PM

by Tim Parks

This British novel is full of insights about family tensions, about religion, about the nature of sex and about being a 15-year-old boy who would like to make sense of it all. Ricky, the narrator, is the son of a pastor. His mother is beautiful, kind and good; his older brother is brilliant and angry; his sister is a pill. The family bumbles along in rather conventional fashion until the young curate in the parish introduces the congregation to speaking in tongues. The conservative, traditional worship service becomes devoted to trying to rout out the devil and convert nonbelievers. Ricky is embarrassed by it all. He has a crush on a pretty girl, but he is afraid to make a move because of all the talk about sin. Meanwhile his brother is having an affair in the next room, and his mother takes in a strange young woman who needs saving. The smashing, scary climax comes when a charismatic American evangelist delivers an emotion-packed sermon and everyone but Ricky gangs up on his brother to exorcise his devilish nature. This first novel, by a writer who grew up in Manchester, England, won the 1986 Maugham Award. The adolescent voice of the narrator is funny and right on target. Tongues of Flame is a small gem. (Grove, $14.95)

You May Like