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.