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a mite whimsical in the brainpan ([info]tigerkat24) wrote,
@ 2008-07-29 21:26:00

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Book Review: Mary Called Magdalene
So I just finished reading Mary Called Magdalene, by Margaret George. I chose to read it because I enjoyed George's other books (The Autobiography of Henry VIII and The Memoirs of Cleopatra) despite their length, and because I've always been interested in and curious about the Magdalene. However, I find myself curiously irritated by Mary Called Magdalene.

I think part of the reason is because it feels so much like "women's history." I use the term carefully here, not to suggest a derogatory attitude towards people who research the lives of ordinary and extraordinary women in the past (I come from an all-girl's school, people, that'd be stupid and hypocritical of me), but to express my irritation with the people who insist on shoehorning women into places they simply would not have occupied. In this novel, Mary Magdalene manages to be an ordinary Jewish woman who then becomes the center of the group of disciples, and, according to George, the only one who remained with Jesus throughout his trials and suffering. The apostle John gets a mention as does the Virgin Mary, but all the glory belongs to Mary Magdalene. She also falls in love with Jesus, though thankfully George does not go the Dan Brown route and claim it was returned. Beyond this specific objection, I have no reason to account for my annoyance with Mary's character.

Another issue I had with the novel is that it goes on too long. I ended up skimming the last hundred or so pages, since they did nothing for me and merely served as a chance for George to talk about the early Christian church. Had she written them in the same engaging style as she did the rest of the story, I might have read them; however, she chose to write them in a summary, formulaic voice, styling them "The Memoirs of Mary Magdalene." The lovely turns of language and knack for dialogue are all gone, and it was simply uninteresting.

I did enjoy the language prior to that little interlude. Margaret George has a way with words that make her seven- and eight-hundred-page books worth reading. For example (off a randomly-opened page in Mary Called Magdalene):

"Something seemed to slow her, and she turned and looked carefully at each face. She looked directly into each woman's eyes, although usually she felt it was impolite to do so. Dark-brown eyes, so deep they looked black; eyes fringed with such heavy lashes they threw shadows on the woman's cheeks; eyes the tawny yellow of the shells of tortosies; even one pair of startlingly blue eyes, as blue as any Macedonian's."

Gorgeous description. George specializes in these and usually delivers five or six a chapter.

I'm not sorry I read this book, but I am confused by my irritation with it. I quite liked the story up until Mary fell in love with Jesus, at which point I started skimming and skipping. Perhaps I'm too Christian at heart to quite like the idea of Jesus being in love, or maybe it's simply part of my own beliefs about what makes divinity. It could even have been my feeling of "I know this story, get on with it," though I don't think so, as I was enjoying the book up until then. Either way, I just stopped caring about Mary and her troubles.

If you like me are interested in Mary Magdalene but don't feel like investing the time in this brick of a book, I much preferred Donna Jo Napoli's Song of the Magdalene. It's elegant, concise, and much more emotionally affecting.

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