The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman

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The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A genuinely new and insightful take on a story that we think we know and one which resonates today. Four people tell their stories around the time of the death of Jesus in Judea, each as compelling as the other. Often thought provoking, even provocative, but always entertaining.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Viking
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780670919901

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In The Liars' Gospel, Naomi Alderman gives the perspective of four people on the recent death of a Jewish man named Yehoshuah, who is more commonly known these days by the anglicized name of Jesus. These perspectives include Miryam (Mary), the teacher's mother, Iehuda of Qeriot (Judas Iscariot), a one time follower of the man, Caiaphas, the High Priest of the great Temple in Jerusalem and finally Bar-Avo, Barabbas, a rebel who is determined to bring down the occupying Roman presence. What makes this such a remarkable book is the sheer visceral nature of the story telling. Each story is vividly told, and Alderman evokes the time and place to such a level that you half expect to have developed a sun tan while reading the book.

Alderman has clearly researched the subject extensively, but she is never 'preachy' (an unfortunate choice of words, I acknowledge) on the learning. Rather, it informs the action in a way that is both entertaining and informative. On top of this she adds a huge dose of the human factor that ensures that this is never a dry read. It touches on heavy issues, like faith and the intrinsic relationship between organized religion and politics but with a lightness of touch that never sacrifices entertainment for her message.

Alderman catches the grief of the mother combined with anger beautifully. It's both moving and thoughtful. In the telling of Iehuda's story too, she captures the delicate balance of gaining and loss of faith and the pressures of self interest. Caiaphas too is torn between the demands of the faith he represents and the protection of his people and way of life which involves cooperating with the occupying Roman army. Bar-Avo has no such interest in working with the hated Romans. He's a rebel with a cause.

The stories are full of friendship, betrayal, massacres, riots, violence and tyranny. It's no mean achievement to bring something new and fresh to such an old and known story, but Alderman does this throughout. It's an old story but the issues remain today, and like the best historical fiction, it shines a light on the present by looking to the past. By emphasising personal and very human perspectives on events, she is able to come at the story from a fresh perspective.

Tackling religious subjects is always likely to offend some readers. It's certainly true that in some cultures such a story would be at very least frowned upon and probably banned. God comes out reasonably well, but organized religion and Yehoshuah perhaps less well. As you might gather from the book's title, Alderman suggests that the story of Jesus as we have it is based at least on some elements of lies and propaganda by many. She doesn't baulk at emphasising the view that the organized Christian religion is at least in part a political construct in its historical origin.

But while the subject matter may be contentious to some, it would be wrong to suggest this is some heavy message-laden narrative. It is first and foremost an exciting, entertaining and enthralling read. All religion has a strong element of story-telling associated with it - and this is story telling of the very highest order. It deserves to be a huge success and is certainly one of my 'books of the year'. And that's no lie.

Our huge thanks to the nice folk at Viking for sending us a copy of this terrific book.

The addition of a very human perspective to an old story is also very much part of Ransom by David Malouf. There's no shortage of good faith-questioning novels at the moment, but The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen is well worth checking out, not least as the author shares an, albeit different, orthodox faith upbringing with Naomi Alderman.

Buy The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman at

Buy The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman at


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