The Gospel of Judas - US Reviews
From the Christian Science Monitor, July 2001:
Noted for his combination of passionate storytelling and scientific
themes, Simon Mawer tackles a challenging set of problems in his new
...at times the reader feels physically wrenched by the events in
the novel. The spareness of the prose and the unresolvable tension
of the situations can catch your breath.
The Gospel of Judas establishes Simon Mawer as a world-class novelist.
Faithful to the world as fact, [the novel] shows how our emotional
dependence on fact dehumanises us. Mawer's use of the novel to explore
social, political, intimate and religious history reveals the power
of this genre to redeem the present.
From the Boston Globe, July 2001:
...a breathtakingly subtle literary style ...an irresistible thriller
of uncommon substance.
The three plot lines reflect one another like a triumvirate of mirrors,
each laden with themes of guilt, betrayal and redemption… so
much attention to the formal aspects of plotting and theme might easily
have turned the novel heavy handed and schematic, but Mawer avoids
this by his thoroughgoing skill as a fiction writer. All of the symbolic
and thematic elements arise organically from the actions and figure
neatly into the plot. The same is true of Mawer's handling of the
setting - Rome and Jerusalem are vividly evoked without an excess
of description. And the rich vein of expert biblical and scientific
knowledge that runs through the story serves not to display the author's
erudition, but to figure upon the problems of the characters.
What makes all this work so well, however, is Mawer's beautifully
rendered prose. Clean and straightforward, it is incredibly nuanced
in capturing the emotional response to faith, love and sex. Mawer
seems to inhabit the deepest reaches of Newman's humanity - the doubt
that hides within religious belief, the physical repulsion that can
accompany the joy of sexual intimacy.
Unlike Greene, Mawer does not labor under the misapprehension that
an unhappy ending is more profound than a happy, or at least promising,
one. Thus Newman does not have to die for his sins. Instead, he must
live for them, learn from them, seek his salvation in fear and trembling.
From The Atlantic Monthly, June 2001:
The priest whose faith threatens to collapse is a familiar figure
in Western fiction. But in the hands of the British novelist Simon
Mawer that figure takes on fresh, eloquent life. Indeed, Mawer's protagonist,
Father Leo Newman, a biblical scholar based in present-day Rome, is
a memorably hard case, shaped by a family background that taps into
the heart of the Nazi-era nightmare, and possessing the intellectual
tools that guarantee he'll recognize faith-shattering truths when
they come his way.
Those truths emerge most vividly in a newly discovered "Gospel
of Judas," found in a cave overlooking the Dead Sea. If genuine,
it pre-dates all the Gospels of the New Testament and will change
the premises of Christian faith forever. But other sorts of truth—sexual,
psychological, vocational—also begin to wear down Leo's defenses
as Mawer draws the disparate strands of his story together. The book's
assured orchestration of linking imagery and parallel incidents (two
troubling deaths, two love triangles) offers keen formal pleasure.
And pleasure turns to deeper satisfaction as Mawer delves into the
failed resurrections and flawed transfigurations that result from
his characters' volatile desires, delusions, and deficiencies.
The Gospel of Judas is the second of Mawer's novels to be published
in this country, and it fulfills the high expectations raised by his
U.S. debut, Mendel's Dwarf, three years ago. Here we have another
gifted British writer of idea-driven fiction, deserving of mention
alongside Iris Murdoch, William Boyd, and Michael Frayn. Mawer's prose
is admirably lyrical, playful, and precise. His greatest strength,
however, is in crafting probing, puzzlelike narratives that yield
compelling dramas of the mind and heart. Three of his earlier novels
have not yet been published here. It is time to bring them out.
From the Baltimore Sun, April 2001:
Mawer knows how to marry the power and beauty of words. He pieces
together sentences so delicate and revelatory, I found myself rereading
passages to savor them. He's equally skilled at plot, deftly layering
intricate pieces of story back and forth across time and locale. The
novel as millefiore.
While other thriller writers take on spies, serial killers and bad
cops, this author wrestles with faith, redemption and the authenticity
Leo Newman is a priest about to fall. In the midst of his struggle
with fidelity to God, he's asked to decipher a newly discovered ancient
scroll. The writer of the scroll identifies himself as Judas and his
account of Jesus' crucifixion is vastly different from that of the
New Testament. If Father Newman validates the scroll, he invalidates
not only his life, but Christianity. He would become Judas. "He
knew all the pain of betrayal," writes Mawer, "how compelling
it was, how necessary. Betrayal stemmed from belief, that was its
Mawer intertwines Newman's struggles with the lives of the three
significant - and significantly damaged - women in the priest's life:
his mother, his first lover and his current lover. The twists in their
lives are unexpected and troubling. But don't expect a neat ending
with easy resolutions. This is a book about a man who struggles with
faith. Mawer leaves the reader as he leaves Father Newman, questioning.
* Starred Kirkus Review, April 2001::
Religious mystery, sexual intrigue, and the enigmas of identity--all
are mingled together in this breathtakingly readable thriller.
The story's symbolic resonance is announced in the very name of its
protagonist: Catholic priest Leo Newman, who is sent to Jerusalem
to join an international team entrusted with deciphering a newly discovered
Dead Sea Scroll--a fragment of papyrus purporting to be the story
of Christ's martyrdom as observed by his betrayer Judas Iscariot.
British author Mawer surrounds this central situation with Father
Leo's later relationship in Rome with a rootless young woman named
Magda Novotna, and, with a series of flashbacks to WWII, and a German
woman's adulterous relationship, her "punishment", and her
connection--revealed only in the superb closing pages--with the man
who would become Father Leo. For he, like Judas, is a "betrayer"--of
his vows, and of his close friend Jack, an ailing diplomat, with whose
wife Madeleine this fallen "new man" conducts a passionate,
guilt-ridden affair. Its abrupt termination, and the violent transformation
that awaits Father Leo in the Holy Land, are the high points of a
powerfully charged narrative that consistently absorbs--and surprises--the
reader. In a very real sense, "the gospel of Judas" is as
much Father Leo's own story as it is a mystery unto itself: either
an inflammatory "piece of anti-Christian propaganda" or
a radical reinterpretation of the four gospels that proves beyond
dispute that Christ did not rise from the dead. And, in a stunningly
savage climactic irony, it's the apostate priest himself who is seemingly
Readers who've enjoyed Arturo Perez-Reverte's sophisticated thrillers
won't want to miss The Gospel of Judas. Mawer is rapidly proving himself
one of the genre's contemporary masters.
From Publishers' Weekly, April 2001:
A crisis of faith is at the heart of this fascinating, thoughtful
literary thriller revolving around the discovery of a manuscript written
by the historical Judas. Father Newman, close to middle age, is a
scholar living in Rome ... when he is sent fragments of some first
century AD scrolls to decipher...
...it is only when this Gospel of Judas makes its appearance, like
a metaphor come alive, that the whole idea of what it means to be
a Judas becomes the subject of the book. It's a hook that Mawer uses
to stunning effect. What Newman, already shaken by the end of his
affair with Madeleine Brewer, does to that ancient manuscript is the
ultimate betrayal in the novel, but as in so many interpretations
of the crime of Judas, the betrayal is really the outward evidence
of an affirmation of faith. Discerning readers will relish Mawer's
excellent writing and subtle treatment of a potentially over-the-top
From the Library Journal, April 2001:
Mawer has penned a tale that is strongly reminiscent of Graham Greene
and Umberto Eco. Written on a high intellectual plane it offers much
food for thought, while vivid pictures of Jerusalem and Rome add further
to its depth.
Fred Gervat, Concordia Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY.