J.M. Coetzee’s New Novel Is a Philosophical Reimagining of the CHILDHOOD OF JESUS

In his newest novel, J.M. Coetzee reimagines the life that Jesus might have had in a vague, almost-contemporary setting. The boy, named David, finds himself in a peculiar Spanish town with the older man Simon who raises him as they look for his mother. When Simon stumbles upon a woman whom he senses is David’s mother, he must deal with this potentially unfit woman raising the boy who has become beloved to him.

Childhood of Jesus US CoverCoetzee’s novel is allegorical and philosophical, exploring the ideas of the New Testament in a contemporary, often straightforward tone. At first, the novel feels somewhat gimmicky; you keep expecting to find parallels between Childhood of Jesus and the Bible. But this novel only borrows concepts from the Bible and is in no way concerned with remaining true to its “source.”

Based on the title, I was hoping for more about the character David (and how he was meant to be a stand-in for Jesus). Alas, David remains a remarkable enigma throughout the novel, with Childhood focusing solely on Simon and his exploration of what a family can be.

Told in a dialogue-heavy manner, Childhood can be tedious at times. Simon’s unwavering ideas of the world are overly preachy. But Coetzee manages to present these concepts succinctly, engaging your mind in these philosophical musings. However, this style of novel will definitely not be appealing to the casual reader (in fact, much of Coetzee’s work is not terribly appealing to the casual reader).

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P.D. James Brings DEATH TO PEMBERLEY While Breathing New Life Into Jane Austen’s Beloved Characters

Six years after the events of Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Darcy is throwing the annual Lady Anne Ball and everything is going smoothly. But, as close friends and family are celebrating the night before, her sister Lydia unexpectedly bursts into Pemberley screaming that her husband Wickham is dead. So begins the latest work of crime fiction by master writer P.D. James.

Turns out, Wickham isn’t dead; but he is found holding the bloody corpse of his friend Captain Denny in the middle of the woods. Darcy himself is quickly involved and stays involved throughout the investigation and trial of Wickham. The novel gives a very interesting look into the British legal system of the time. And James gives some very Dickensian twists to our favorite Austenite characters.

Many secrets abound in this tale, but James juggles them easily while also seamlessly introducing us to some of the other new characters that didn’t exist in Pride & Prejudice. (Austen fans will also enjoy the few moments when characters from other Austen books are fleetingly referred to.)

Although some parts of the book seem to drag, know that everything will be resolved in Elizabethan fashion—in other words, 3-page-long monologues delivered in the final chapters will reveal all.  And if, in your course of guessing whodunit, you begin to suspect lycanthropic involvement (Full moons! Mysteriously ill people!), then you have merely read too many supernatural books. Don’t worry; this isn’t Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (although that book is also really good, just in a different way).

Death Comes to Peberley is great way to revisit old friends and see what they’ve done with their lives. James creates believable futures for Austen’s characters while also reexamining their choices made in P&P. Just be warned, Austen fans, that after reading this book you will want to revisit Austen’s classics.

Mirror Mirror

With all the reincarnations of the tale of Snow White coming out this year, I felt the urge to revisit Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same subject. In his version, Snow White is young Bianca who is left in the care of the Lucrezia Borgia after her brother Cesare sends Bianca’s father off on an impossible quest. From there, you can pretty much guess the rest. But what makes Maguire’s story so interesting is that it all feels real.

Throughout the novel, Maguire incorporates real world events (specifically the ones concerning the infamous Borgias) with the fanciful tale of Snow White. Although Maguire does note that he has taken liberties with historical facts, it still feels as though it could have happened (especially if you’re not well versed with 16th century Italian history). Of course, it is hard to be fully realistic when you involve shape-shifting dwarves, apples from the Garden of Eden, and an enchanted mirror.

Bianca is an adequate heroine, although her life of seclusion in Montefiore makes her a very naïve heroine at that. But I think the character that really brings this story to life is Lucrezia. So many rumors abound about her, and Maguire incorporates them into the storytelling (one of the characters is the child of incest conceived with her father the pope). She is a wicked and self-serving woman, but with Maguire’s sarcastic writing she is immensely fun to read about. I’m always fascinated with evil women, and the way Lucrezia manipulates the other characters is a true delight.

A less delightful aspect of the novel, though, is the revolving door of narrators. When Maguire isn’t telling the story through an omniscient narrator, he includes chapters told in first person by the characters. But the way he jumps around between narrators feels arbitrary and unnecessary. The switching of perspectives disrupts the flow of storytelling and, at times, distracted me from fully immersing myself in the story.

Despite such narrative missteps, the story remains fanciful and tantalizing. And Maguire never shies away from including sex in his stories (whether it be incestuous lust or trysts with squids), which makes his works very much adult unlike the children’s stories they are derived from. Mirror Mirror may not be Maguire’s best work, but it still gives you that Maguire fix of sarcastic humor, winking allusions, and melodrama that I’ve come to expect from his other works.