George (Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, 1992, etc.) again brings a historical figure to life, this time in a low-key but persuasively feminist take on the early disciple who found Christ’s empty tomb.
Though actual documentation of the life of Mary, the woman from Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, is scanty, George has done enough homework to make her role in early Christianity credible. Her Mary is not only the woman of the Gospels but also a preacher, healer, and confidante of Jesus, with whom she shares her troubling prophetic dreams. From her early childhood, when the story begins, Mary is bright and thoughtful but subject to strange dreams. Intimations of her future begin when, at seven, she goes with her family to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. She picks up a carved ivory figure from the ground where the family is camping and hides it among her possessions. On this same expedition, she also meets and is impressed by the young Jesus and his mother Mary, also attending the festival. Mary Magdalene grows up, still haunted by dreams, but as she nears marriageable age, she is increasingly troubled by voices, skin lesions, and odd movements in her room. Being wed to Joel doesn’t help, and, frightened that the hidden idol is responsible, she confesses her fears to him. When none of the prescribed cures work, the young woman, despairing, heads to the desert, and there, listening to John the Baptist, meets Jesus. He exorcises the demons and the story goes on to tell how she joins Jesus (after being expelled by her family) and begins healing and preaching with the disciples. In relating the events leading to the Crucifixion, and the years afterward, George suggests that Mary loved Jesus not only as the Messiah but also as a man.
Engaging and intelligent fiction that celebrates one of Christianity’s great women.