The best fiction with Jesus as a character

Jonathan Trigell Author Of The Tongues of Men or Angels
By Jonathan Trigell

Who am I?

I’m the author of five extremely different novels: Boy A (which was made into an award-winning film), Cham, Genus, The Tongues of Men or Angels, and Under Country. They share almost nothing in subject or setting. Ranging from first-century Judaea to a future London. From ski resort workers in France to young offender prisons in Britain. My latest work - Under Country - is about the 1984 Miners’ Strike and its still lingering scars in the North East pit villages. Yet, I suppose, if there were a unifying theme between them, it would be that each, in its own way, is influenced by and fascinated with Christianity.


I wrote...

The Tongues of Men or Angels

By Jonathan Trigell,

Book cover of The Tongues of Men or Angels

What is my book about?

The Tongues of Men or Angels was my first ever hardback and the hardest book I’ve ever written. The research alone almost killed me, quite literally a couple of times in the Middle East. But in some ways, it is the novel that I’m most proud of, because it is my own committed ‘truth’ about the birth of a religion. The Mail on Sunday put it better than I could:

“This daring novel tells the story of Jesus and his followers in the years leading up to and following the Crucifixion. Trigell's interpretation of the origins of Christianity, particularly the factional struggle between the disciple Cephas (Peter) and the convert Saul (Paul), will spark controversy, but there's no denying the raw power of the writing.”

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The books I picked & why

Quarantine

By Jim Crace,

Book cover of Quarantine

Why did I love this book?

Written long before quarantines became so fashionable, Jesus in Jim Crace’s novel is an almost peripheral player, because set during Christ’s forty days in the wilderness six other people share in the inhospitable desert caves, miracles, and hallucinations. Each character has their own troubles and trials; their own battles with demons to resolve; which they hope isolation and fasting will accomplish. And for each, in ingenious ways, it does… I am a big fan of Crace’s style, rhythm, and invention, and this is one of his finest works.

By Jim Crace,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Quarantine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by Stuart Evers

So this is happiness, she thought. Or this, at least, is what adds up to happiness. The prospect of never running after men and camels any more, of being Miri without shame or hesitation, of letting drop her headscarf for a change so that nothing intervened between her and the sky.

Five travellers venture into the Judean wilderness in search of redemption. Instead, amidst the barren rocks, they are met by a dangerous man, Musa, and fall under his dark influence. As the unforgiving days and bitter nights erode their resolve, it becomes clear…


Book cover of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Why did I love this book?

Pullman sets out – and achieves, with his usual aplomb – to subvert the stories of Jesus, indeed to divide them: his Jesus and his Christ are two entirely separate figures. Pullman uses a deliberate echo of Biblical style, to show how the Bible stories are first and foremost just that: stories. To show how history became myth and then myth became faith. How the very hypocrisies that Jesus himself pointed out people mouthing religious observances, without the accompanying good deeds – became an almost fundamental structure of the established church. 

By Philip Pullman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'If I vanished he wouldn't notice, if I died he wouldn't care. I think of him all the time, and he thinks of me not at all. I love him, and my love torments me. There are times when I feel like a ghost beside him; as if he alone is real, and I'm just a daydream.'

This is the story of two brothers. One is impassioned and one reserved. One is destined to go down in history and the other to be forgotten.

In Pullman's hands, this sacred tale is reborn as one of the most enchanting, thrilling and…


The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of The Master and Margarita

Why did I love this book?

A masterpiece about a masterpiece. A story within the story which itself becomes the story. An allegory of Russian persecution, written by a Ukrainian, which, quite evidently, feels more important than ever, right now. A literary fiction about literary fiction. About the fears and rejection that all writers face, magnified a thousand times, under Soviet oppression. A talking tomcat, the devil, and petty adversaries who frequently get their comeuppance in fantastical, fairy-tale ways, which make the embedded narrative about Pontius Pilate and Jesus probably the most material aspect of a magical, mad journey. 

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Master and Margarita as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Bulgakov is one of the greatest Russian writers, perhaps the greatest' Independent

Written in secret during the darkest days of Stalin's reign, The Master and Margarita became an overnight literary phenomenon when it was finally published it, signalling artistic freedom for Russians everywhere. Bulgakov's carnivalesque satire of Soviet life describes how the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow one Spring afternoon. Brimming with magic and incident, it is full of imaginary, historical, terrifying and wonderful characters, from witches, poets and Biblical tyrants to the beautiful, courageous Margarita, who will…


The Testament of Mary

By Colm Toibin,

Book cover of The Testament of Mary

Why did I love this book?

With characteristic charm, Toibin’s book is almost perversely historically inaccurate, as if he is enjoying teasing the reader: I seem to remember Jesus being sent to his room at one point, like a teenager in suburbia, when Judaean houses of the period were of a single piece; a burial scene feels very much like a burial in a peat soiled Ireland, no Judaean deserts here. And yet the book achieves its own honesty because, as Keats said: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.”

By Colm Toibin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Testament of Mary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Tóibín is at his lyrical best in this beautiful and daring work” (The New York Times Book Review) that portrays Mary as a solitary older woman still seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity—shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

In the ancient town of Ephesus, Mary lives alone, years after her son’s crucifixion. She has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospel, who are her keepers. She does not agree that her son is the Son of God; nor that his death was “worth it”;…


The Liars' Gospel

By Naomi Alderman,

Book cover of The Liars' Gospel

Why did I love this book?

Naomi was raised as an Orthodox Jew. I can’t remember whether she told me herself, or I read it somewhere, but she once said that she struggled to see how people who weren’t steeped in the Judaic tradition could even understand the Christian Bible. There is something in this: The ‘New Testament’ rests upon and relies upon Judaism for all of its authority. And yet it is simultaneously incredibly antisemitic. It’s a paradox that Christian scholars and theologians have struggled with for millennia, frequently with devastating and bloody consequences. I read The Liars’ Gospel as Naomi’s quite beautiful attempt to examine and unravel this paradox.

By Naomi Alderman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Liars' Gospel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An award-winning writer reimagines the life of Jesus, from the points of view of four people closest to him before his death.

This is the story of Yehoshuah, who wandered Roman-occupied Judea giving sermons and healing the sick. Now, a year after his death, four people tell their stories. His mother grieves, his friend Iehuda loses his faith, the High Priest of the Temple tries to keep the peace, and a rebel named Bar-Avo strives to bring that peace tumbling down.

It was a time of political power plays and brutal tyranny. Men and women took to the streets to…


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