Friday, June 27, 2008

Your Mission, if you accept it: find this book

click to go to
pp 396
Patrick Tilley
Sphere 1982

I've just finished a book that does not quite tally with what I believe, but I find I must recommend it on the basis of its tight plot, characters so real you think they're in the room with you, continual sucker-punching of the reader, and a dénouement that I defy anybody to anticipate. The central character is a successful yet streetwise New York lawyer called Leo Resnick, who through no fault of his own finds his comfortable life knocked out of kilter by the sudden appearance of Jesus Christ.

The Man - as Resnick, telling the story in first person, refers to the quondam corpse which is brought to Manhattan General Hospital having been badly beaten and pierced in the hands and feet - turns Resnick's life upside down in episodes that are by turn comic, jaw-dropping and heart-breaking. Jesus, I must admit, tends to do that.

Consider this passage - the Man persuades Resnick to give him the full tour of New York, and they pass through the red-light area, Resnick seeing the cover-girls in a way he never had before:
How many trees, I wondered, had been killed to provide the paper to print this junk? How did little girls who skipped to school, stared wide-eyed at their first snowflake, posed prettily in pigtails and their first party dress, had known the joy of a kitten, the magic of fairy tales and Santa Claus...What was the process of dissolution? The answer had to be more than just one hundred bucks an hour.
Resnick is Jewish, which, one would think, gives Tilley licence to tell the tale while making the minimum of controversial points about Christianity. But like his main character, Tilley chooses not to do anything the easy way. (As a Scot I respect that - Billy Connolly swears we went north from the US to Canada because there was snow there, it was inhospitable, and the resulting cultural isolation and tuberculosis would preserve our distinctive accent for generations to come.)

Tilley goes off the Gospel page by stating Jesus travelled widely through Europe and Asia with Mary Magdalen but thankfully, unlike The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and its novelised version The Da Vinci Code, stops there.

There is a lot of Jewish mysticism to take in, primarily relating to the Kabbalah, which might have had the potential to stump novices in this area, had Tilley not made the going relatively easy. There are also Kabbalistic references in The Holy Blood and Da Vinci, but, having studied the subject, I'd say the difference is that Tilley knows what he's talking about.

I don't know what religion Patrick Tilley is, but it's good to see, in fiction at least, Jews reclaiming Jesus as one of their own. Every so often there are polls on influential Jewish figures; while his mother Mary regularly makes the top 5, Jesus is far further down, because of the actions of his followers upon his people. It's all too common to see a Christian group - often Roman Catholic, I hate to say - averring that "Salvation comes from the Jews" then in the next breath deconstructing the Jews' status as God's chosen people. As far as I'm aware God doesn't work on a sale-or-return basis, which is recognised in the prayer "For the Jewish People" in the modern Roman Catholic liturgy for Good Friday:
Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.
Whereas the former prayer, which was restored to the Tridentine Rite by Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio, runs:

Let us pray also for the Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Mission, Leo Resnick is taken closer and closer to his Jewish roots as each successive veil is removed from his heart. As is only right: while Judaism stands on its own as a religion, Christianity without Judaism - besides being a heresy - is at best unrealistic, and at worst a lie.

I recommend Mission as a spiritual thesis that you'll find yourself thinking about long after you've finished it, an intriguing mystery, and as unputdownable a book there ever was since Ronald Reagan minted the term for The Hunt for Red October. And if nothing else, as an intelligent, pacy and unpredictable religious thriller it shows The Da Vinci Code up to be the derivative airport trash that it really is.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment - Frugal Dougal.