December’s Book Club read was The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman which is a book that had actually been sat unopened on my shelf for quite some time.
Described on the blurb as ‘…one of the most enchanting, thrilling and visionary stories of recent years’ – the story is a retelling of the Gospel (Luke’s I think) but with a thoughtful Pullman twist.
This was an incredibly quick read – I was done within a couple of hours – and it wasn’t as difficult to digest as many versions of the Bible can be. That said, it was still written in the traditional ‘Biblical’ style of short chapters and read much like a more modern version of the text would do.
I really like that Pullman chose to keep the writing in the style of the Bible, it somehow made the story seem more plausible as an alternate version of the Gospel than if he had just written it as a series of short-story pieces or a full novel. It was noted by a member of Book Group though, that if you weren’t familiar with the style of the Bible then it felt a bit jarring to read with the short chapters and verse-like sentences.
The simple idea of Mary having twins on that starry night in the stable, the first born being Jesus as agreed with the Angel and the second being called Christ, was remarkably clever and I loved how by the end it was easy to see how they could be twisted into being just one person after a long time passed.
The book left you with lots to think about – about how the basic, honest, good morals and lessons that Christianity is based on have been twisted and shaped to suit regimens throughout history. How the church became wealthy and corrupt in places, how people’s faith gets abused by those with power in the church, how lessons in the Bible get twisted to suit what individuals think (homophobia, marriage, abortion all sorts of things).
Interesting and thought-provoking but without being inflammatory, Philip Pullman’s religious background and upbringing and his atheism in adulthood lead to a curious look at both sides of Christianity and what makes it good and bad in almost equal measure.
Worth a read if you spot it in the library sometime.