Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Review: Magdalene

Magdalene. Angela Hunt. 2006. Tyndale. 448 pages.

Silence, as heavy as doom, wraps itself around me as two guards lead me into the lower-level judgment hall. When I fold my hands, the chink of my chains disturbs the quiet.

My first impression of Magdalene was a good one. I started the book and felt it had great promise. It's biblical fiction. It's a fictional account of Mary Magdalene. (Miryam of Magdala) It's a nice blend of fact and fiction. We don't know that much about her--as a person, her life before, her life after--but we do know she was a follower of Jesus. The middle third of the book focuses on the year(s) she spent following Christ. The teachings. The parables. The miracles. The signs. Witness to it all. Did Miryam understand who Jesus was? Not in this account. Is that her fault? I don't think so. I think many followers--men and women--were confused, were frustrated, by Jesus' real mission. A mission that led all the way to the cross, but didn't end there. Miryam certainly wouldn't have--couldn't have--predicted the true mission, the true purpose.

The book imagines much more than that however. Readers see the before picture. A Miryam so angry, so bitter, so confused, so hurt that she goes to the dark side. What led her to such a place? Well, in this account, Miryam has lost her husband and her children to the brutality of Roman soldiers. Miryam becomes obsessed with revenge, with justice. She'll do anything--even if it means inviting strange new gods into her life--to get what she wants.

Jesus (in Hunt's account Yeshua) heals Miryam, welcomes her, forgives her. But is that the end of this story? Should that be the end of this story?

Magdalene is a novel within a framework. Miryam is sharing her story with an unfriendly audience--a Roman audience. She's been sentenced to death. And she's telling us just why she's about to die. The whole book is working towards this very dramatic conclusion. You may think you know why she's there, but you may just be surprised. I know I was.

I said I had a good first impression, well, my impression had changed by the end. The good news--Miryam is a human character, a fully flawed human character. The bad news is I was disappointed with Miryam. I wanted a different story, a different result. I can't say much more than that really. Not without spoiling some of the book's twists.

Magdalene is a compelling novel. It kept me reading. Even when I wanted to throw the book across the room, I wanted needed to know what happened next.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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