The original print editions of Philip Pullman's Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ had on the cover "This is a story" as a way of (unsuccessfully) deflecting criticism that this book set out to destroy the story of Jesus that lies at the heart of Christianity. Unfortunately it is as a story that this book fails. Much of it feels like filler with large chunks lifted straight from the pages of the Bible. The lifting of passages stops about halfway through at a point at which storytelling begins to take over, leaving the feeling that this is a short story that the publisher insisted be stretched to novel length.
The gist of the narrative is that Mary had two babies in the stable, a healthy one called Jesus and a weak one called Christ. Jesus grows up as the one who attracts attention, while Christ is the twin in the background that no-one notices. It is a good premise for a novel, but unfortunately Pullman did not go on to write a good novel. It is reminiscent of the double failing of the concluding volume to the Dark Materials trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, in that Pullman is guilty of both trying too hard and not trying hard enough. He tries too hard to score his religious points and not hard enough to tell a good story. Maybe this novel should be retitled The Good Muse and the Scoundrel Author.
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