I first heard about this book several months ago on the ChurchBass mailing list. It’s not a book about playing bass in a church context, so the discussion didn’t carry on very long, but it is a book about Jesus.
Furthermore, it’s a story about the childhood years of Jesus by someone who is widely known as as a skillful author. To add a twist, she’s not widely known in the Christian ghetto as the writer of nice, Christian stories with soul-soothing lift. No, Anne Rice is famous as the author of books like Interview with the Vampire, dark gothic books about twisted, evil characters. Add in an alleged conversion to Christianity and suggestions that this fits in very well with her publishing schedule and it’s perhaps not altogether surprising that the title lodged in my mind as one I wanted to look out for.
I’d done some preparation, reading Interview… and the more recent Servant of the Bones, and so I’d established to my own satisfaction that she is indeed a good writer, who can deal with characters, concepts and plots that are not shallow cyphers. I have to admit that I found the first few pages of Christ the Lord tested my resolve to treat it fairly. Rice draws on both the gnostic Gospel of Thomas (for incidents like the child Jesus bringing clay birds to life) and the unevangelical Roman Catholic supposition that Mary remained a virgin (and so the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the gospel were cousins or step siblings).
However, it is a story, and stories are allowed to paint the impression of what is seen rather than stopping to justify every daub of colour. While some sections might not seem quite right to me, they don’t detract from the overall brilliance of this portrait of a young boy pondering the secrets his loving family hold from him in his youth and gradually understanding of his own being and purpose.
Once you finish the novel, it is worth continuing through the author’s note at the end. It explains the journey that has led her to grasp at the wonder of the son of Mary, Son of God, the mystery of history and yet the light of the world. I’ve come away believing that the book has the scent of honest faith, a thing of beauty to be treated with respect. It could have been a travesty if written by an embittered sceptic or a zealously proselytising child of Christendom but sails smoothly past both Scylla and Charybdis to become a work that definitely joins my shortlist of books worth reading.