It should come as no surprise that I wanted to read Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel. I am fascinated by alternate viewpoints and retellings of established stories because it’s fun to note the differences that time, gender, and perspective can make. Earlier this year, I read Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, which is probably a stricter alternate telling of Jesus’ life – from Mary’s perspective. While The Liars’ Gospel is purportedly about Jesus’ life, Yeshoshuah – for our purposes, from the perspective of four people to whom he was closest, it has a wider scope and is much more about the “liars” and the communities in which they live. They twist pieces of his tale for their own purposes and sense of well-being, and detail Jerusalem in the years after his death when the Jews continued to struggle with Roman occupation of their land.
The four accounts are from Myriam (Jesus’ mother Mary), Iehuda of Qeriot (Judas), Caiaphas(High Priest of the Temple, and Bar-Avo (Barrabas, a rebel set free while Jesus was crucified), and each one of them is a fascinating glimpse into life at that time. Through rich and detailed storytelling, Alderman creates a thought-provoking and memorable set of characters who are both selfish and selfless, enmeshed in the struggles of their people while also preoccupied with their own personal dramas. One of the most impressive things about The Liars’ Gospel is the way that Alderman puts these figures, who have been so important historically in the evolution of Christianity, into context as players and pawns in a long and bloody war and battle against occupation and for religious freedom. In remembering The New Testament from childhood, I would have been hard pressed to site anything approaching the torture and violence which was routine at the time.
The Liars’ Gospel is a marvel of historical detail and deft storytelling – from its opening scenes of worship, sacrifice, and destruction through its terrible conclusion. It is almost impossible to put down once you’ve started. Highly recommended.