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piiskoor

Another fine mess

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The Fire Gospel - Michel Faber Review placeholder.... too busy grading....

Faber's novel is more novel-ish, maybe novelette, an update of the Prometheus legend for the Myths series. A tightly-wound, underwhelming scholar of Aramaic happens upon a lost gospel, and translates--dreaming of big bucks and fame, but unleashing hell. The book contains the pleasures I normally associate with Faber: sly descriptions (a man "smoked hurriedly, without pleasure, as though he were standing at a bus stop and had mere seconds to finish the thing off before the bus left without him") and a baldly bleak yet strangely generous sense of human failings.

Some reviewers have harped--positively or negatively--on the book's heavy-handed satire, and whether tilting at publishing, academics, the book-buying hoi polloi, or the faithful, Faber is lobbing darts at easy targets, no doubt. I loved the satire... but the book would feel thin if only concerned with taunts and jeers.

First, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.

Jesus dies in the discovered gospel. A fairly mortal death -- leaking and spewing fluids onto the few faithful down below, and actually seeking dispatch (asking for, not naming, an end), and then finally agonizingly dying. And the miraculous rebirth is promised, rather than witnessed... thus sparking the present-day conflagrations, the faithful driven to skepticism or a renewed (and vicious) belief. Such could easily be taken as potshots and armchair blasphemy, and I'd be okay with that, lacking faith (or, rather, not desiring or possessing faith) myself.

But I happen to have read this just a day before finding out a close friend had been diagnosed with cancer. A pretty rough discovery--she's very young, and it's further spread than you'd want. I have no idea of the prognosis... but it's grim. I found Faber's vision, lurking in my memory, tremendously reassuring. For all its derision about the laughable grotesqueries of the body, even "His" body, the novel is, I think, profoundly concerned with with the way our desires seek always to satisfy yet escape their gross material limtations. We crave some escape from the blood and shit, yet hunger desperately for the sex and food and many carnal satisfactions, and this bind is one so fully human, so fully realized in even this brief little distraction from Faber, that I found a kind of renewed hope in my sense of the human. Not the vaunted and vaulted "Human," but the human of assholes and handshakes and cheap flings and the sadness of our own decay. It's strange to say, but the Promethean bargain Faber outlines is to recognize that our aspirations (for that other pure spiritual truth or knowledge) are not divorced from the pain and suffering, but fully embodied through them.

I'm rambling. And this ramble--and this book--would do my faith-strong friend no good. But for this snickering atheist, Faber's about the best kind of spiritual guide I could want.