Thursday, June 8, 2017

Phillip Freeman's "The Gospel of Mary": Book Review

book cover of 

The Gospel of Mary
Since I was a teen reading James Michener's "The Source," I've had a weakness for "So-and-so has discovered a missing Gospel" yarns. I liked the prolific Professor Freeman's recent Oxford UP retelling of Celtic mythology, so I gave this a try. Via an e-galley, I did not know until I finished that this is the third in his Sister Deirdre series. That explains some backstory I kept wondering why not more was divulged herein. I had no trouble following along, but it's better I assume to have caught up with the previous books, for the main character evidently has a complicated past and much to tell.

Not be confused with another, recent Irish-oriented story, Colm Tóibín's drama "The Testament of Mary," Freeman's "The Gospel of Mary" features the rapid pace, genial tone, and expository dialogue that fills us in on an Ireland when Christians still number few. Deirdre's grandmother was a druid and she claims the same identity, although when her mother died, her grandmother fulfilled her promise to raise Deirdre in the new faith. With allusions to a failed marriage, other past liaisons, and a child who died young hovering about, it's clear that Freeman's protagonist has had more adventures than most nuns might have, at least in later times. She lives with her friend and sidekick Dari in a monastery founded by Brigid, which to Rome's discomfort hosts celibate men and women together.

Rome's unease deepens as it sends a clever emissary to find out what the truth might be to a manuscript smuggled into the island with haste, secrecy, and danger. It is, naturally, the tale of Jesus told by his mother, and its passages intersperse, as they are translated by Dari from the Aramaic, with the fate of the two women as they get caught up in keeping their treasured text safe from the Church. The Church, after all, fears that its integrity will crumble if Mary's words are proven true, and even if they are not able to be verified, that the heresies and tumult generated by them will bring down Rome

It all moves satisfactorily. I read it in a sitting. Freeman has done his biblical homework, and he blends it with a quest that dashes about Ireland. There's plot complications, but the story line as a whole does not surprise. It's a pleasant narrative, and it likely will educate as well as entertain you.
(Amazon 9/5/17)

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