Author: Philip Pullman
Release date: 2011
Genre: Modern, Myth and Creation
Target audience: Adult
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a twist on the story of Jesus the man and Christ the Redeemer. It’s a complex tale but told with the easy narrative of a traditional tale.
I certainly found this book easy to read. The narrative voice is clear and enticing. It almost invites you to sit by the fireside and listen. Perhaps it is inevitable that this story, which is known so well to the reader, reads like putting on a comfy jumper. And yet, the book may be easy to read but it is difficult to understand. At times I felt confused. I didn’t know which character to trust.
In Pullman’s retelling, Jesus and Christ are twin brothers. Both are flawed, as all humans are. They both believe in the coming of the Kingdom of God but it is in the method of preparation that their views differ. Beyond that, I don’t want to say much more because you already know this story and any twist I reveal would spoil the retelling for you. Every time we tell a story from memory a little detail changes in the retelling. If it is a witnessed event, everyone will remember it a bit differently. I think in part this is a theme of the novel. Sometimes we see what we want to see. Sometimes we change something for dramatic effect.
Although I did find the subject matter interesting and at times even mysterious, there are some passages which are excessively long. They tended to be Jesus speaking or giving a sermon with very little interruption. I’ll be honest here and say that in those parts I was a bit bored.
I know this book caused considerable controversy when it was first published. I think it’s a challenging subject matter to novelise and reinvent in an age where race, religion, ethnicity and belief are sensitive topics which shape identities and communities but can also be entirely misrepresented and misunderstood. I think having the courage to explore this story is to be commended. I wouldn’t call myself religious but religion (from a sociological point of view) fascinates me.
This book won’t be for everyone. But if you enjoy thinking and looking at the world from different viewpoints, it is a rewarding read. I have never read anything like it before.