Lion; 2005; £14.99; Hardback; 368p; ISBN 074595202X
Following the success of “The Book of God” and “Paul“, Walter Wangerin now turns to a fictionalised portrayal of the life of Jesus. A bold undertaking – but one which the author tackles with his usual vividness and skill as a master storyteller.
The novel is not so much a narrative as a collection of episodic, first-person accounts, told mostly through the eyes of Mary, the mother, and John, the beloved disciple. We share their emotions as they relate Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – their joy, their amazement, their frequent bewilderment and their grief, soon to be transformed. Living as we do two thousand years after the events it is easy to forget that the words and actions of Jesus, which we take for granted, would have often been surprising and shocking to His contemporaries.
The first-person approach allows for a freshness of language and a depth of emotion that is not so easily achieved through straightforward narrative. The inclusion of modern idioms such as “OK” and “You’re snookered!” may grate on some readers but could make the novel more accessible to non-churchgoers and those on the fringe.
The story is quite fast-paced and is highly readable. The characters stick in the mind – Simon Peter, great in size, presence and emotion; Mary, with her untameable, “exploding” hair. Does Wangerin succeed in portraying a believable Jesus – a daunting task to attempt? To a reasonable extent, yes. Here are the authority coupled with humanity and humour; the approachableness and the frequent “otherness”. For me the physical smallness of the author’s Christ was less convincing. But perhaps it is the power with which Jesus speaks and acts in the Gospels that make one imagine a man of above average height with a carpenter’s muscles. Who is to say that Wangerin is not correct?
All in all this is a highly successful novel which should encourage Christians to re-read the Gospels with a fresh eye and perhaps a deeper understanding and challenge the un-churched to examine their pre-conceived ideas.
Contributed by Susan K. Brown, MCLIP, who works as Community Librarian for Tunbridge Wells District.