“The Fire Gospel” by Michel Faber

Canongate are running a long term project to produce a series of retellings of legendary myths by contemporary authors. The Fire Gospel is the third book in the series I’ve read, and is author Michel Faber’s interpretation of the Greek Myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals.

His protagonist is Theo Griepenkerl, an academic who specialises in Aramaic and is in Iraq trying to find treasures he can “save” from destruction by taking them back to Canada for storage. When the looted museum he is visiting is bombed, he finds nine papyrus scrolls that have been hidden inside a sculpture for two millenia. He translates the scrolls from Aramaic to find they are actually a fifth Gospel written by a man who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. The story follows the inflammatory tale of what happens when Theo publishes the contents of the scrolls.

This is the third book of the Myths series I’ve read, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. It’s a pacy, quick read, and felt a bit like a shorter, more literary version of the blockbuster type thrillers like the Sam Bourne novels. Before you even read the whole story, as you realise what the scrolls contain, you begin to think about the impact they would have on religious communities around the world, even if Theo’s single-minded approach to what it will do for him is a bit too naïve to be fully convincing, but it doesn’t really detract from the story as you can imagine how he would get caught up in the process of his revealing of the Gospel to the world.

There’s one particularly funny chapter, when after Theo’s translation has been published, he’s at a loose end and decides to have a look at how well his book is doing on Amazon, and reads a selection of the customer reviews. Faber has taken great delight in writing these reviews, with their spelling, grammar and typographical mistakes, and all feel totally authentic and made me chuckle to myself (although maybe I feel a little uncomfortable writing my own thoughts on Faber’s book here now!).

Another Faber book down, and another good read. Also another book in the Myth series read, and another one enjoyed. I’m going to try and keep occasionally dropping another of the books from this series into my reading, as I’ve enjoyed them a lot, but I don’t think Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy will ever be surpassed, as surely the most joyous book I’ve ever read.

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2 thoughts on ““The Fire Gospel” by Michel Faber

  1. Are the books connected via storylines and characters, or only thematically? I’m not sure I would have the time to properly invest in another series if I had to keep stories and characters straight across various titles, but if they are stand-alone I might have a look for them. It sounds line an interesting project.

    • There’s no connection between the books, other than thematically. I think the brief the authors are given is quite wide, and they can choose how they want to approach the subject, whether to rewrite the story of the myth or just be inspired by it to write something new. You can have a look at http://www.themyths.co.uk to find out a bit more, and see details on the books that have so far been published.

      I’ve read a couple of others so far – Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad where she takes an alternative look at Homer’s The Odyssey writing from the perspective of Odysseus’s wife, Penelope. Also, Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith, which is a modern retelling of Ovid’s myth of Iphis, and is a joyful book to read.

      I have to admit, I know nothing about any of these myths, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all.

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