Monday, 24 November 2008
The Fire Gospel by Michael Faber
Canongate €10.99 (easons.ie again)
JESUS was a fat little guy whose last words were "Please, someone, please finish me", and his most faithful disciple was a spy for the High Priest, in Michael Faber's The Fire Gospel.
His hero, Theo Griepenkerl, is an academic hoovering up some of the goodies of Iraq's antiquities after the war. A gurning curator pauses in leading him through a museum and goes to answer the door.
The subsequent explosion blows a relief of a pregnant goddess to bits, and Theo discovers nine scrolls of perfect papyrus dislodged by the blast.
Which he forthwith steals, and sets out to make his fortune with the translation.
They turn out to be priceless - the words of an actual eyewitness to the Crucifixion, Malchus, who was converted when ... well, it gets a bit graphic here.
In former Whitbread contender Faber's horribly funny book, Theo becomes a Christian version of Salman Rushdie, with enraged crowds and stalkers following him from reading to reading. Not to mention the suicides.
I somehow doubt this is going to be a best-seller. Theo isn't a likeable enough hero - not until the end, anyway.
And it will probably enrage all those who believe, as the song has it, in an interventionist God.
But if it's grim humour you're after, Faber is your man.