So I finished 'The Book of Rachael' flicking through the last pages. It was a struggle to finish and I particularly disliked the sex scenes between Rachael and Judah (the Judas character.) Sex in literature. Hmmm. Another topic for another time I reckon.
Have also just finished Philip Pullman's book 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.' I loved it, it was clever and original and so simple to read in its pared-down form. Absolutely no description, not an adjective in the whole thing (well maybe a few, but you know what I mean.) Even Hemingway was not so bald and nubby.
It's a short book with large print, organised into tiny wee chapters with headings that follow the new testament events concerning Jesus's life. It follows faithfully. Apart from the part where Jesus has a twin brother called Christ who is the one at the end to betray Jesus, and who has also become the secret agent of some dark force (this stranger towards the end says something like 'I'm not Satan, if that's what you're thinking.')
All the Bible folk are there. The disciples, the Mary's. And all the significant moments. From the turning over of the money-changers' tables in the temple right up to the crucifixion. Alot of the dialogue reminded me of 'Life of Brian' and it is clear to me now how biblically accurate that movie was.
Perhaps my favourite bit was when Mary became pregnant. This is how my version of the bible tells it (the Good News, must get a copy of the King James, it's better no?):
Matthew 1: This was how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they were married, she found out that she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately. While he was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. For it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived. She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus - because he will save his people from their sins.
Pullman's version: The Conception of Jesus. At that time, Mary was about sixteen years old, and Joseph had never touched her. One night in her bedroom she heard a whisper through her window. 'Mary, do you know how beautiful you are? You are the most lovely of all women. The Lord must have favoured you especially, to be so sweet and so gracious, to have such eyes and such lips...' She was confused, and said 'Who are you?' 'I am an angel,' said the voice. 'Let me in and I shall tell you a secret that only you must know.' She opened the window and let him in. In order not to frighten her, he had assumed the appearance of a young man, just like one of the young men who spoke to her by the well. 'What is the secret?' she said. 'You are going to conceive a child,' said the angel. Mary was bewildered. 'But my husband is away,' she said. 'Ah, the Lord wants this to happen at once. I have come from him especially to bring it about. Mary, you are blessed among women, that this should come to you! You must give thanks to the Lord.' And that very night she conceived a child, just as the angel foretold.
Don't you love it?
Just for some balance, this is how the Koran tells the story:
S. III 42-49
42 Behold! the angels said:
'O Mary! God hath chosen thee
And purified thee - chosen thee
Above the women of all nations.
43 O Mary! worship
Thy Lord devoutly;
And bow down (in prayer)
With those who bow down.'
45 Behold! the angels said:
'O Mary! God giveth thee
Glad tidings of a Word
From Him: his name
Will be Christ Jesus,
The son of Mary, held in honour
In this world and the Hereafter
And of (the company of) those
Nearest to God;
46 'He shall speak to the people
In childhood and in maturity.
And he shall be (of the company)
Of the righteous.'
47 She said: 'O my Lord!
How shall I have a son
When no man hath touched me?'
He said: 'Even so:
What he willeth:
When He hath decreed
A Plan, He but saith
To it, 'Be' and it is!
48 'And God will teach him
The Book and Wisdom,
The Law and the Gospel,
49 'And (appoint him)
An apostle to the Children
Of Israel, (with this message):
" I have come to you,
With a Sign from your Lord,
In that I make for you
Out of clay, as it were,
The figure of a bird,
And breathe into it,
And it becomes a bird*
By God's leave...'
Now we come to James Frey's 'The Final Testament of the Holy Bible' which I have just started reading. It's rare to begin a book and love it from the first page. I have known of Frey's controversy (his first novel was presented as non-fiction and a memoir of his life and it was endorsed to the max by Oprah W. Then when it was revealed to be complete fiction, she reviled him publicly and he was in the poo. To the max. He has, it seems, recovered though I don't know what his reputation is like today. On the back of the copy of The Final Testament that I have here, this is written:
He's been called a liar. A cheat. A revolutionary. A genius. He's been sued by readers. Dropped by publishers. He's also a bestselling phenomenon. Beloved by readers around the world. - Time Magazine.
Wiki details the story and the annihilation of him by Oprah and the offer of RandomHouse to refund people their money if they wanted. People had bought the book under the impression it was a memoir when it turned out that much of it was fabricated. I wonder whether this has helped to reinforce the genre of 'creative non-fiction.' Apparently many publishers rejected the manuscript in its former guise of fiction, so obviously he reinvented it as memoir to get a contract.
Also, I need to finish a weird, posthumously-produced Hemingway, 'Garden of Eden.' I've stalled with this one but thus far we have a newly-married couple spending inordinate amount of time on the Riviera, and the wife has disclosed that she would like to be a boy. 'At least some of the time.' So she's cut her hair short and apparently does things to the husband in bed that are different, and he is not a little unsettled by all this.
* the chapter of Pullman's book titled The Childhood of Jesus talks about Jesus and Christ as children, Jesus is the more normal, naughty, ordinary of the two (while Christ can make strange things happen). On the Sabbath Jesus has made some figures of sparrows out of mud by a stream, and when it looks like he will get into trouble for breaking the Sabbath, Christ makes the sparrows come alive and they fly away, to stop the people punishing his brother.