Jack

Jack

Author Marilynne Robinson
Publisher Virago £18.99
Format hbk
ISBN 9780349011813

This carefully crafted novel by America’s foremost Christian writer is the fourth of a quartet which charts the lives and religious journeys of the Boughton family in the Midwest in the middle of the twentieth century. Jack is the tale of the prodigal son who has not quite come to his senses and returned to his Presbyterian family, although in this narrative he is tantalizingly close to redemption. He meets Della, high school teacher and devout daughter of an African Methodist Episcopalian preacher, and love develops in the unlikely setting of a night spent in Bellefontaine cemetery in St Louis. But this is Missouri in the 1940s, and apartheid prevails; state laws ban interracial marriage and buses are segregated. Any relationship between a down-at-heel white man and a respectable black woman appears doomed. Marilynne Robinson writes superb prose, studded with biblical texts to highlight the ambiguities of her narrative. She also deploys many literary allusions, especially from Hamlet and also Milton’s Paradise Lost. The cloying atmosphere of post-war America is brilliantly drawn. I warmly recommend this wise and perceptive book.
Review by ALICE BURDETT

Fiction

 

Phoebe

Phoebe

Author Paula Gooder
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton  £14.99
Format hbk
ISBN 9781473669727

This is a clever book which delights on two levels. It is first a fictional narrative, based on the imagined but plausible life story of Phoebe, the deaconess named in Romans 16.1 as the emissary who delivered Paul’s great letter to the city of Rome. Gooder, well-known for the excellence of her scholarly biblical studies, reveals herself as an accomplished writer of fiction, producing a charming and entirely believable tale of first century Rome. She brings many names from the New Testament Church into plausible roles. But if the story is good, the commentary is better, and one suspects this is Gooder’s prime purpose. The second half of the book is essentially a companion volume of facts and analysis, providing a thorough grounding in the character of the early Church and the culture of the Roman Empire. It guides us through Paul’s theology, the background to his travels and imprisonments, and shows how Paul’s writings reflected the turbulent society of the first century. I strongly recommend this book, which will both entertain and inform.

ALICE BURDETT

New Testament Commentary, Fiction