What is this remarkable book about? The clue is very much in the title. But it is about much more than that. The author has researched extensively into numerous subjects to bring alive this extraordinary and complex tale dealing with humanity’s inability to deal with truth.
We encounter a lost monastery filled with an ancient order of monks neither meek nor mild, a biblical scholar whose merciful intervention in an unjust Islamic punishment gets her into serious trouble and nearly costs her life, and an astronomer/astrophysicist whose mistaken attempt to simply prophesise a supernova gets him into the trouble that lies at the heart of the story. But we also come across figures from history who should be no longer extant but somehow manage to be around.
There is evidence of real scholarship in the details of the lives presented, the facts surrounding the physics of the crucial event, the relationships among the various religious sects involved, the behaviour of radical religious extremists, the actions of the FBI, the attitudes of the mega rich, and the misguided power of the mob.
The action is fascinating. The characters are beguiling, funny, idiosyncratic, glamorous, strange, incredibly credible, and so, so human!
I have only one small criticism and that’s something personal; I found some of the passages of dialect difficult to comprehend, but managed to get the ‘feel’ for the meaning nevertheless. I suspect those with a more attuned ear will find these passages easier to understand.
I won’t precis the storyline; you can find that for yourself in the blurb. I found the story absorbing, fantastical, amazing, surprising, and weirdly engaging. Much that happens seems unlikely until the reader understands that there is also much metaphor here; rather appropriate since the novel takes a book from the Bible as its core story mover, and we all know that scholars excuse much of the rank idiocy of the Bible as metaphor.
The author introduces us to scholars in various fields, scientists unworldly outside their specific fields, tarot card readers, religious fanatics, government agents, far seers, corrupt businessmen, figures from history who should be dead, a gifted child, lovers, media moguls, and many other characters. In all the relationships we are able to empathise with the individuals, even if we cannot agree with their attitudes or behaviour, because they are painted with such care and honesty.
The ending is, regardless of personal preference, inevitable: this book could only end truly in the way it does. After the story, the author produces information about his research and various descriptions of the real people involved, which also makes fascinating reading.
I don’t know what else I can say, except that this book deals with a multitude of themes and incorporates these into the story in such a way the reader absorbs them along with the action and comes away thoroughly satisfied with the experience.
I wrote this review based on an advance reading copy the author sent me.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]