Title: The Fire Gospel
Author: Michael Faber
Release Date: January 6, 2009
Challenge: 2009 Pub Challenge, A to Z Challenge
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Satire
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
Theo Griepenkerl, a Canadian linguistics scholar, is sent to Iraq in search of artifacts that have survived the destruction and looting of the war. While visiting a museum in Mosul, he finds nine papyrus scrolls tucked in the belly of a bas-relief sculpture: they have been perfectly preserved for more than two thousand years. After smuggling them out of Iraq and translating them from Aramaic, Theo realizes the extent of his career-making find, for he is in possession of the Fifth Gospel, and it offers a shocking and incomparable eyewitness account of Christ’s crucifixion and last days on Earth. Nakedly ambitious and recently dumped by his girlfriend, Theo sets out to share his discovery with the world in the form of a headline-grabbing U.S. book tour. Caught in the throes of his newfound fame, Theo fails to consider the global and cultural ramifications his discovery will have with God-fearing folks and religious zealots worldwide. Like Prometheus’s gift of fire, Theo’s book has incendiary consequences. A hugely entertaining, and by turns shocking story, The Fire Gospel is a smart, stylish, and suspenseful novel by the celebrated author of The New York Times best seller The Crimson Petal and the White.
I have to say, I really enjoyed The Fire Gospel. The book is basically a smart satire on the entire The Da Vinci Code historical thriller genre. In many of these types of books, the main character is noble, often fighting for mankind against the forces of evil. They have no interest in personal gain (Indiana Jones’ “This belongs in a museum!” comes to mind.) Theo, on the other hand, is selfish and very ambitious. The bottom line is that he wants to be rich and famous. He really doesn’t have much of an interest in educating the world or the truth.
I also loved the scenes during which Theo is translating the gospel. He constantly laments on how boring Malchus, the author, is. Yes, there are some “gems” within the gospel, but generally it really is just Malchus being boring. Every time one of these “church conspiracy” type books is published, the information is always shocking and very neatly worded. It’s never long-winded or boring.
The fire storm after the gospel is published is what I’ve really been interested in. Too often, the historical thriller books end with the discovery (1) being buried or hidden because people aren’t ready for the “truth” or (2) the book ends right before they are about to go public with the information. I loved reading about Theo’s never ending book tour, how he was just like any other author. The mundane nature of the entire second half of the book overshadowed the nature of his amazing archaeological find. The fake Amazon.com reviews are an added bonus. The ending is a bit strange, but I guess it goes along with the story.
The reactions of the people are really what this book is about. At its core, The Fire Gospel is a retelling of the Prometheus myth – Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to man. Then he’s chained to a mountain as a punishment and vultures peck out his liver. (Theo brings a gospel to the world and enraged people etc. peck at him). This book is part of the Myths series: “The Myths gathers a diverse group of the finest writers of our time to provide a contemporary take on our most enduring myths. From the outset the idea was to approach writers from around the world and invite them to retell any myth in any way they chose.” I think this idea sounds incredibly interesting and am going to check out more of these books. [website]
As you can probably tell, I read a lot of these “historical thrillers.” I see them as brain candy and I love escaping every once in awhile. But I also liked The Fire Gospel. It pokes fun at the formulaic nature of these books. However, it is also very short, so it wraps everything up before the satire gets old and boring (though, like I said, the ending is just weird). Really, anyone who read and marvelled at the ridiculousness of The Da Vinci Code (on literary grounds, not on religious grounds) would probably enjoy The Fire Gospel.