The Fire Gospel

We demand of a satiric fiction so many things as to render success almost impossible. Wit, sardonicism, and laughter must blend into something that rises above mere spite. Jabs must draw blood without appearing cruel; the issues must be both timely and eternal. Add the daunting burden of every novel: to tell a captivating tale featuring real humans. Given these paradoxical criteria, it's no wonder that the number of great satires is so small. But The Fire Gospel increases that total by one, leaping gleefully over the genre's oxymoronic hurdles. From his truly creepy SF/horror excursion Under the Skinthrough the faux-Victorian romance The Crimson Petal and the White and a handful of superior short fictions, the stylistically mutable Michel Faber has seemed disinclined to repeat himself. This new book is both a delightful departure and a showcase for the author's established virtues. The story of young and ambitious antiquarian Theo Grippin and his discovery of a hidden testament from one of Jesus' lesser disciples is written with a wry, contemporary voice somewhat unusual for Faber, but the "transcriptions" of the ancient text recall his expert Victorian pastiches, and the climactic violence and captivity tropes summon up imagery from Under the Skin. These past modes recombine into an organic new whole that focuses on the insanity of religion, modern publishing, and the culture of celebrity. Theo's personal Stations of the Cross take him from a sexy publicist to gun-toting maniacs, from an avaricious publisher to vapid talk-show hosts, from a disdainful ex-girlfriend to New Age worshippers, in a comedic race across the postmodern landscape of ignorance and despair. Along with Christopher Moore's Lamb, Paul Park's The Gospel of Corax, and Gore Vidal's Live from Golgotha, this book will form part of every laughter-loving freethinker's cathechism.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

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