Passionate, sensual, politically fervent and oddly compelling.

THE SECRET GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE

A controversial early novel by a noted British writer, published in the U.S. for the first time, imagines a fifth and feminist gospel, written by Jesus’ lover, Mary Magdalene.

The author of 11 novels, Roberts (Reader, I Married Him, 2006, etc.) has frequently explored the subjects of women and spirituality. This book, first published in the U.K. as The Wild Girl in 1984, proposes a more gender-balanced version of Christianity. Mary herself is a combination of Mary of Bethany (sister to Martha and Lazarus) and Magdalene the sinner. In Roberts’ imagination, she is still a prostitute, but also a visionary given to mystical dreams, spontaneous songs and speeches, in a society in which women are second-class citizens. She meets Jesus when Lazarus brings him home and quickly becomes “the companion of the Saviour,” i.e. his lover and one of the key women in his group of disciples. After a year of traveling and preaching, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the arrest, trial and crucifixion, it is Mary who sees the risen Christ first and hears the messages for his followers. But Simon Peter—the repressed celibate antithesis to Mary’s earthy inclusiveness—rejects her upholding of male and female integration and union as so much women’s talk. Only when 11 male disciples see Him does the mission to preach the new faith begin, under Simon Peter’s leadership, with an all-male priesthood that excludes Mary’s egalitarianism. She, Martha, the Lord’s mother and a woman named Salome plan their own mission but find themselves shipwrecked near Massilia (Marseilles), where Mary gives birth to her daughter Deborah, then finishes the book.

Passionate, sensual, politically fervent and oddly compelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-933648-56-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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THE PRINCE OF TIDES

A NOVEL

A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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