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The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, James Frey

May 19, 2012

Firstly – an apology.

I have quite literally been jetsetting the past few weeks. I am not the sort of trendy jet-setter with a laptop typing away in transit, as I am always reading, and as such there have been no blogs, but lots of reading (and desperate, but ultimately failed attempts at tanning).

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First of all I started – and finished – my first James Frey novel, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. I have always been a huge fan  of books concerned with religion (which makes me realize I still have not posted my Top Ten Fiction Featuring the Devil – coming soon! I promise! It is written – it is just very long). I loved The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman, and The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis, and so forth (and actually even contemplated studying religion after finish school). I also love, love, love anything that gives society a good whack across the head. Not just defying convention (like postmoderism, modernism, Tristram Shandy, Damien Hirst bla bla bla) but actively saying “Hey! Society! A lot of things suck about you! Let’s change them!”. I also love things that have gay activism in them. As such, it should come as no surprise that I jumped at Frey’s book immediately when I was sent the following description of the book:

What would you do if you discovered the Messiah were alive today? Living in New York. Sleeping with men. Impregnating young women. Euthanizing the dying, and healing the sick. Defying the government, and condemning the holy. What would you do if you met him? And he changed your life. Would you believe? Would you?

And guess what. This book wasn’t just good. It was completely, all-absorbingly, compulsively pageturningly amazing. True story:
I sat opposite a colleague on the tube for half my journey home without seeing her, and she didn’t even want to interrupt me because I was, apparently so completely absorbed in my book as to be oblivious to everything else.

The short pitch above pretty much sums up the book. I can include that it is written in several different narratives, with each section being told by someone whose life Ben (i.e. the Messiah) touched, in some way or other. Some sections are told by Mariaangeles – a young, impoverished single mother in a particularly poor district in Brooklyn, one is told by a Catholic Priest whose entire life was shaken upside down after the meeting. All the narratives each tell a strong story, as well as tying together a narrative of questioning basically everything established in society, but firstly and foremostly what influences religion has in the world.

What is striking is that Frey proposes no utopia, no different world, no changing of the past – simply the act of embracing the present for absolutely all it is worth. This novel questions a lot of “truths”, and practices, frequently in a way that, to me, is obvious. But I certainly could not have phrased it so beautifully. (But then James Frey himself is slightly beautiful as well:)

If I do have one (completely forgot the word for objection – was so absorbed in Peter Andre on ITV – he went on a date with a belly dancer! Called Nelly!) (see what I did there? Lightening the mood with a bit of high/low contrast) (though not sure James Frey qualifies as high)(unless we are talking about the kind of high you get from illegal substances, in which case he definitely does, more on on that in a different post when I review A Million Little Pieces) ( brackets over) objection it is that Frey perhaps goes too much in extremes in the messages Ben gets from “God”. For a specifically undidactic, undogmatic nonreligious religion, Bens “rants” are remarkably anti-everything and extremist.

I have no problem with most of the things he says, but sometimes, even for someone who considers herself pretty pro-liberalism, pro-gay, anti-traditionalism and religious extremism, it feels a bit like someone who is venting his personal issues more than writing a balanced and powerful critique of the state of the world. Now I am not saying there is something wrong with venting personal issues in literature. However, this book could potentially have such an impact that I am worried the rants could scare off people who might otherwise find some eye-opening truths, or at least could see their own half-formed ideas confirmed.

Please do not let this stop you, though. Read it. It may not be for the faint of heart, but I think everyone could learn something from this. It is very frank, and does not pussyfoot (sorry, I just love that phrase) around anything. At all.

This book is a piece of terrific writing – raw, completely new, absorbing, awakening.

Suffice to say, I am already halfway through A Million Little Pieces.

This turned into a quite a long post, so there will be no “secondly”. The rest of what I have been up to whilst jetsetting will be revealed over time – but there will be some non-fiction, there will be some Ibsen, and other exciting things, so stay tuned.

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