The Second Coming by John Niven

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The Second Coming by John Niven

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Category: Humour
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A humorous, irreverent, quirky take on what Jesus would do, think and be if he was on Earth today.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 376 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0099535522

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God has come back from a holiday and has some catching up to do. What’s been happening on Earth for the last couple of hundred years? The realisation hits him hard... it makes him sick in fact. So what’s the answer? To quote the religious cliché, Jesus is. After a board meeting with the senior saints, God decides that his son must be torn away from jamming with Hendrix to go back to the streets of the world to remind the sinners of the way.

I found this book fascinating... but, starting at the beginning, I feel I must pin my colours to the mast. I’m a practising Christian. In fact my husband is at theological college as he wants to be a vicar when he grows up. (Where are you all going? Come back!) So, when I read the blurb for John Niven’s The Second Coming and noted that, as a Christian, I should be shocked and provoked, the contrary madam in me couldn’t counteract the urge to read it and see for myself. I actually enjoyed it.

The Jesus in the book is very much like my idea of Jesus, with a couple of exceptions. This Jesus swears a lot, taking after his heavenly father as God seems to as well. However, this is not a problem for me. Having raised two sons to adulthood, I’m really good at totally ignoring swearing. Also, they both smoke marijuana but this keeps Jesus in character in the novel. For here we meet the hippy Jesus, living amongst the down and outs and less fortunate (as any Biblical scholar would expect). He’s more than happy helping where he can and spreading the gospel of the most important commandment, Be Nice. Jesus’ friends have other ideas though, and before he realises, he’s crossing America in a beaten up bus with his 'disciples' and others he picks up along the way, to appear in American Pop Star (a deservedly cruel, fun snipe at American Idol and X Factor).

I loved (yes, loved) the way in which Jesus became frustrated and annoyed with right wing American evangelicals, rescuing a gay guy from their persecution. The circular discussion about their reasoning was also very perceptive. I would also love to share the bits with you that made me laugh, but I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say that the office scenes in heaven, at the beginning of the book, shouldn’t be glossed over. There’s also a lot of humour in the way in which others accept (or don’t accept) Jesus’ identity and selfless attitude. The reader can actually see this happening if Jesus did return – another tribute to John Niven’s writing.

The premise of The Second Coming is not wholly original: the idea of a god with human foibles comes from the ancient Greeks; God as the chairman of a board of saints comes from the Catholic view of heavenly hierarchy and the hippy Jesus was on 1960’s posters. (I was a small child then I hasten to add!) The joy of this book is the fact that the originality is in the way in which they’re woven together with humour and a fair bit of sensitivity. Some people will indeed be shocked, for instance right-wing evangelicals and also those believing American Idol and the X Factor are straight and above board. Personally I found an interesting, well-observed, collection of characters headed by a caring, sensitive Jesus who was frustrated by the world, had a great sense of humour and wanted his father’s creation to Be Nice to each other. My only shock is that this book is that good.

I would like to thank Vintage Books for supplying a review copy of this book to

If you've enjoyed this, try The Learners by Chip Kidd.

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