Original Year of Publication: 2001
Paperback Page Count: 656
Genre: Biblical Fiction
Summary: Mary Magdalene is one of the Bible's most controversial figures--some argue that she was a prostitute, others the wife of Jesus. Even more wonder if she was the most beloved of his disciples, his best friend and counselor. Margaret George's book follows the life of Mary from when she was a young girl, to her wife and motherhood, and on to her following Jesus. It paints a picture of a young Pharisee woman who, after being driven to the edge of sanity by demons, finds a different calling with a strange prophet...
I have never been big on Mary Magdalene. The theory that she was a prostitute apparently has no historical grounding, so I dismissed it. She doesn't show up in the Bible that much, and when she does, it isn't as if she's overly important. Some call that "male bias" I call it "Hey, she must not have been that important". As for the Mary-as-Jesus'-wife-Davinci-Code idea--give me a break. I could go on and on about how that story cannot be defended, but I won't.
So little is known about Mary, it's very easy for an author to give her a fictional story with very few restrictions. I immeidately liked the idea of Mary coming from a Pharisee family--though later on, it got to be a bit conflicting. However, despite an interesting concept, the book begins very slowly, very ploddingly. It talks about Mary's awful family, about her cool friend who teaches her how to read... There's basically no importance to it until she finds an idol and meets Jesus for the first time. Even that meeting seems a bit superfluous to me, as it's not like anything happens. She's a little girl, he hasn't started on his full journey yet.
Similarly, Mary's home life as she grows up isn't very interesting. You can skim over the pages and glean all the information you need to know--Mary lacks the lush descriptions and interesting little cultural events that Helen of Troy and The Memoirs of Cleopatra give. I don't feel like I really learned anything interesting about what it was like to live in Mary's time period, so it didn't matter.
It takes a while for the book to move on, but when it does, it gets interesting. George's descriptions of a possessed Mary and the steps she must take to cleanse herself are riveting, and--in the ritualistic aspects--very educational. I mean, being the skeptic that I am, I kept on thinking Why didn't you just throw the idol away you freaking moron? but I guess that we're going beyond the norm here. That said, Mary's general character kind of irritated the heck out of me. She was faithful but not, kind of indignant and righteous about everything, and again, a bit on the stupid side.
Then we come to Jesus. I do not envy the challenge of writing Jesus as a character. I mentioned in an earlier review that I prefer important Biblical figures to be treated with a bit of reverence. For example, I don't want to read about how turned on Joseph is by Mary in a book, no matter how "real" it is. That goes even more so for Jesus. Luckily, George is very careful about this. Jesus, in my point of view, was actually pretty cool in the book. Way cooler than Mary, that's for sure. George's characterization is like the Biblical one, but a bit more... in depth? She doesn't change much about the story, aside from the fact that she added some female followers of Jesus.
And... Here's the thing: I don't mind that there were women who believed in Jesus. I like that. But it seemed to me that George was bending the rules of society way back when a bit too much. There were limitations--as seen by Mary's storyline with her daughter being taken away from her. I found that to be one of the best parts of the book. I didn't shed a tear, but it was fairly heartbreaking. Not as effective as it could have been, but a good scene all the same.
What bothered me was Mary's prophetic visions. They came off as cheesey, made her even more unlikable for me--and, well, frankly, I doubt that Jesus Christ needed a vision guide. I always got the impression that he had everything figured out.
And then there's the big "issue"--Mary's feelings for Jesus. As many people before her have done, Margaret writes Mary as having romantic feelings for Jesus. But the way she handled it was tasteful, and if it did happen in real life, I think that it would have happened this way. There's nothing offensive to Christians about it.
Four out of Five Stars: Not Margaret George's best, but certainly far better than Henry VIII and Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles. The main problems with this book are its annoying main character--though I have a feeling that it's just me who dislikes her--a slight plotline that is kind of, well, stupid, and a bad beginning. Overall, I would say that it's an interesting read, and casts Jesus very well. It makes Bible stories more exciting, but as an entire book, is nothing amazing. It didn't grab me, but I have a feeling that a lot of historical/biblical fiction fans will like it. As a Christian, I can also add that there is nothing in the book that truly offended me.
Also by this Author: The Memoirs of Cleopatra, The Autobiography of Henry VIII, Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles, Helen of Troy.
Similar Books: The Red Tent.
Up Next: No clue.