The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
Rating - *** (out of five stars)
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an intriguing book for many reasons. The book is Philip Pullman’s retelling of Jesus’ story, the main change being that Jesus now has a brother called Christ. The title of course hints at the personalities of these two and the roles they play, though by no means touches on the intricacies involved in their relationship with each other. In a lot of ways though the most important part of this book isn’t the plot or characters, but the message and ideas which the author has presented inside these pages.
I described this book as “intriguing” initially, and interesting and thought provoking are also words which in my opinion apply here; involving and gripping definitely less so. This is a quick read and so the slow start doesn’t really matter, but I have to say that all I got from the first few chapters was an intense dislike for Christ. It isn’t really until the very end that the story starts surprising you as a reader. It’s not exactly that this is a problem, more that you don’t normally find yourself in a situation where you’ve already heard or read three-quarters of the story before in some form or another. It definitely makes this into a very different reading experience, at least for me anyway.
That’s not to say I didn’t like this book though. I have read quotes of Pullman’s previously concerning religion and found his views quite similar to mine, so I obviously had different feelings about what I was reading than someone who disagrees with the religious opinions expressed (and I’m guessing that there were probably a lot of people who were extremely angry when they finished this book). The afterword adds another element, with the inspiration behind this retelling set out, as well as some of the aspects which were less clear explained. Not that every detail is made perfectly transparent; quite rightly some quite important points are still left for the reader to interpret, but overall I did find the afterword the most appealing part of the novel.
This review may perhaps seem slightly negative, but I assure this is a book I enjoyed and which I’m very glad I read. I do think that perhaps more could have been done with the concept, but overall it’s a controversial take on a topic which luckily isn’t all hype.