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The Gospel of Judas: A Novel (2000)
by Simon Mawer
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316973742, Paperback)In Simon Mawer's remarkably poised and poignant novel, the small moment is as significant as the large, and "the detail dictat[es] to the whole." Biblical scholar Father Leo Newman has spent a lifetime deciphering meaning from evanescent fragments of papyrus; he is much less accustomed to descrying the metamorphosis of a relationship writ large ("a mysterious thing, much too mysterious for a simple naming"). How unlikely, then, that he should fall in love with Madeleine Brewer, the vibrant but unbalanced wife of a bureaucrat. How unlikely, too, that he should be confronted with an ancient scroll whose details are radically incendiary rather than dustily abstruse: an apparent account of Jesus' life from Judas's point of view. But how marvelously likely that Mawer should take these elements and create a haunting narrative of doubt and faith, "the thin wash of immediacy" and memory, passion and the fragile remains of its absence. Madeleine and the Judas scroll thrust themselves, uninvited and unexpected, into Leo's quiet life in Rome, their very presence a counterpoint to his isolation and vulnerability. Asked by Madeleine to compromise a lifetime, asked by his colleagues to verify or deny the scroll's authenticity, Leo is a profoundly Prufrockian figure, "No Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be." Does he dare disturb the universe?
Mawer skillfully interleaves three narratives: the story of Leo's German mother's life in Rome during World War II, a woman who was herself forced to choose between principle and passion; the unsettling story of Leo's relationship with Madeleine and the scroll; and a circumspect "present," in which Leo is still "a hermit in a cave, a hermit who was hoarding the few fragments of his faith lest they too be swept away by circumstance."
The novel represents a solemn quest, striving back toward half-forgotten origins in an attempt to bring order to a present and future spinning out of control. Its most poignant irony is that Leo is at once creator and destroyer--as he pieces together the story of the scroll, he is simultaneously unraveling his own faith, his own raison d'être:
A dun-colored fibrous fragment hung there behind the glass, a fragment of papyrus the color of biscuit, inscribed with the most perfect letters ever man devised, words wrought in the lean and ragged language of the eastern Mediterranean, the workaday language of the streets, the meaning half apprehended, half grasped, half heard through the noise of all that lies between us and them, the shouting, roaring centuries of darkness and enlightenment. How was it possible to communicate to her the pure, organic thrill?The thrill, thanks to Mawer, is ours. --Kelly Flynn
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:31 -0400)
Leo is a Roman Catholic priest, with doubt lurking in the shadows of his mind and love for a married woman threatening the very fabric of his vocation. And the present has its roots in the past; with Leo's story mirrored by the tragic account of his mother's affair amidst the wartime ruins of Rome.
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