Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: Heresy * Spoilers Alert*

While some of my friends may think that most of the books I read and review are heresy, this one actually is! Heresy by SJ Parris is in the same historical murder mystery fiction genre as the Shardlake stories by CJ Sansom, and may even be better than Dissolution / Dark Fire / Sovereign / Revelation. Perhaps that is heretical to suggest, but I do think that Parris, in her debut novel, hits the mark.

The lead character is an unlikely choice, yet fits well into the world Parris has created (or reconstructed) for him. Giordano Bruno is a monk on the run from the Inquisition because of his desire for 'forbidden knowledge' and unorthodox views on the solar system in the 1500s. He then surfaces in Elizabeth's Protestant England, working as a spy for her agents, and all hell breaks loose.

Bruno's adventure in this novel centres on the academic centre of Oxford where he is resident in one of the colleges during the visit of a foreign dignitary. A series of gruesome murders occur *Spoiler* patterned after martyrdoms listed in Fox's Book of Martyrs, and the hunt is on to discover the murderer among the college staff and students.

Each man and woman introduced is immediately a suspect, with the twists and turns of suggested leads, further events, marvelous happenstance, and heightened suspicion. The action takes the reader on a guided tour of the sights, smells and reality of life in the period. The sectarian undertones and motives give a reminder of the times they were when it appeared that the religion of England was far from settled, and Protestants and Catholics were still fighting it out for power.

As with Shardlake, at times it appears that Bruno is thoroughly modern, reflecting a much more postmodern take on the whole realm of religion and tolerance. As you would expect, there are some interesting quotations:

'I was not afraid to die for my beliefs, but not until I had determined which beliefs were worth dying for.'

Bruno seems captivated by the notion of panentheism - the notion that God is in everything, or that we are all God: 'Sounds like dangerous sorcery to me, Bruno. And what would you prove? That there is no God?' 'That we are all God,' I said quietly. 'The divinity is in all of us, and in the substance of the universe. With the right knowledge, we can draw down all the powers of the cosmos. When we understand this, we can become equal to God.'

There's also the suggestion of a purer religion: 'An ancient truth, of which the Christian faith is one later interpretation. A truth which, if it could be properly understood in our clouded age, might enlighten men instead of perpetuating these bloody divisions.'

'Assure him that I am a true Englishman, loyal to the queen and to the English Church.' 'I though you had stopped believing in God?' I said with a smile. 'What has the Church to do with God?' he countered, almost smiling in return.

'Your tolerance would destroy in twenty days what twenty years of suffering has only served to strengthen.'

'Playing politics with the lives of others was part of the path to advancement, but that, as I was just beginning to understand, was the real heresy.'

And the final, concluding, ecumenical appeal (after the *Spoiler* exciting climax in and through the priest holes in a country house): 'If any good had come from the bloody events I witnessed in Oxford, it had been to convince me that, now more than ever, Christendom desperately needed a new philosophy, one that would draw us together as we passed from the shadows of religious wars into the enlightenment of our shared humanity and shared divinity.' - Surely this is the whole problem, in imagining enlightenment, there is yet more darkness. The light is only found in Jesus!

Even with my disagreement with some of the sentiment (which I'm fairly good at filtering out), I really did enjoy the novel, and already have the next one ready to read when the opportunity presents itself. Heresy by SJ Parris is on the Kindle and in real book format.

No comments:

Post a Comment