Sunday 24 September 2017

Review: The Final Testament Of The Holy Bible by James Frey

John Murray, €19.71, Hardback

'He's been called a liar. A cheat. A revolutionary. A genius. He's been sued by readers. Dropped by publishers. Berated by TV talk-show hosts and condemned by the media. He's also a best-selling phenomenon."

Such is the blurb attached to James Frey's latest work of fiction. And the word 'fiction' is used advisedly.

Frey earned the world's attention with his autobiography A Million Little Pieces, an unflinching portrait of his battles with addiction and corruption. Oprah Winfrey included it in her book club and propelled him into the major league. And then the cracks in his supposed memoir started to appear, A Million Little Pieces was revealed to be a million little lies, and he was vilified by one and all, including Oprah, who brought him back on her show for a bitter confrontation.

One can only wonder what Oprah will make of his new novel.

Frey has described this as a 'theoretical third volume of the Bible -- there was the Old, there was the New, and this is the final". His concept of Christ is Ben Zion Abrohom, an alcoholic bisexual living in the Bronx who impregnates prostitutes, titillates priests and becomes the ultimate seducer himself.

For this second coming, Christ's main quality appears to be his ability to sexually stimulate everyone, even the most devout -- sexual healing indeed.

"The words I spoke were empty, and I no longer viewed the blood and flesh of the Eucharist as anything other than what they were, and what they are, which is cheap wine and bad wafers." So admits Mark, a once pious priest who has become bewitched by Ben with a single kiss.

Although Ben appears to have been born as Christ, it is not until a potentially fatal accident that he really transforms into the Second Coming. And he subsequently connects directly with God through increasingly prolonged epileptic seizures.

The tale is delivered in the first person from the perspective of varied witnesses. These narrators all have biblical names and include a prostitute/drug addict, an accomplished female surgeon, a lawyer and several Born Again Christians.

However, apart from the odd colloquialism, idiosyncratic swearing or example of limited grammar, the distinctions between these voices are not particularly pronounced. It is only retrospectively that I realise that one character, Alexis, is actually a woman.

Interestingly, the one person who never narrates is Ben himself, so we, the readers, never get to hear the Lord's voice, just other people's approximations of it.

Frey has made a conscious decision not to grapple with the ultimate questions, instead choosing the shock-and-awe approach of unmitigated irreverence for this most reverential figure. And shock he certainly does. But, as the pace dips and dives and he allows his characters indulge in protracted spells of sermonising, he also bores, which is a much more significant charge.

If Christ did return today would he really be just another evangelical preacher, albeit one with an insatiable sexual appetite?

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