by Margaret George
This is one of these books in the historical novel genre. You know, a historical situation around which a fictitious story is spun with varying degrees of historical accuracy. This is a dangerous form of literature where author can play fast and lose with history, embracing the adage of "why let the facts stand in the way of a good story".
I therefore approached it with some considerable reservation, particularly as its subject matter was the life and times of Jesus Christ and the formation early church told from the perspective of Mary Magdalene over about 650 pages. The references to Mary Magdalene are few and far between in the Bible to it offered huge scope for creativity.
In the event I was pleasantly surprised, but not necessarily bowled over. I think I would compare it to Walter Wangerin's The Book of God, which novelised the Old Testament in the form of saga. The author has drawn on as many historical sources as possible to present the story of the birth of the Church in an accurate context and from a woman's perspective, with some considerable success.
I have been familiar with the storyline since I was a child and if I dare say it, this familiarity has left the biblical account somewhat dry and sterile. This book therefore placed it in a fresh context, one I could relate to. Sure, the non Biblical storyline is pure guesswork, but its an educated guess and whilst many of the events probably didn't take place it certainly captures the atmosphere of the time. Of course, the early church were familiar with the events of the time and therefore didn't need the context, bur we do.
OK, so the historical side is well presented, but what about the portrayal of Christ? Well, I get the feeling that the author has no particular axe to grind and has written previous historical novels on the lives of Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots and Cleopatra so her aim is to adopt historical accuracy as far as she possibly can. Her accounts of Jesus are very true to the Biblical accounts and I didn't feel she was putting words in his mouth. In fact, I found myself recognising the character of the man portrayed - so readers of faith will not be offended.
Actually, I would go further than that. I found my faith lifted and my love for the Christ portrayed increased - no mean feat!
So, for the believers among you I would encourage you to read it and gain a fresh perspective on the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Church and for the rest I would say that it a light and easy read covering an interesting period of history which was pivotal to our culture.
The book offers Mary Magdalene a voice, bringing her out of the shadows and letting her light burn bright for all to see. A good book but maybe a trifle long.