Can AIDS and the universal agony it brings--not only to its sufferers but to all who suffer on the sidelines--be interpreted as a reworking of the great Christian myths of holy week? Michael Arditti thinks so. He fictionally explores his thesis, which has the potential to be profoundly disturbing, in his new novel Easter with a huge cast centred on the high church parish of St Mary-in-the-Vale, Hampstead.
Gay curate Blair Ashley is a former lover of recently deceased AIDS sufferer Julian Blaikie, parishioner and aristocrat whose Lady Bracknell-esque mother is aggressively unsympathetic. Then there's Lyndon Brooks, infatuated adolescent worshipper, Esther the bishop's wife, who discovers her true lesbian self at age 53, and a pair of women who are married in church by the curate without the knowledge of the vicar--himself happily married but beset by religious doubts. And there are more, including an HIV- positive doctor, a positive librarian and a fiercely "celibate" archdeacon who explores his perversions with a rent boy at the private altar in his cellar.
But graphic homo-erotic sex and the counterpointing of it against the homophobia of the bishop and others notwithstanding, Easter is also a novel about spirituality, suffering and the succouring role of liturgical church services, all meticulously described. Just as it would have been in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, the whole of the human experience is in Easterincluding faith, scepticism, cynicism, honesty, despair, cruelty, snobbery, guilt and corruption.
The account of Trudy England, closet childhood Jewish German refugee who at last finds "peace in herself", is very moving indeed. So is the depiction of the Nigerian Child, Cherish, another refugee, blind and dying of AIDS.
Arditti, who structures his novel in three sections--the last being a working of the events of the first from different angles--often writes with wittily shrewd and observant precision. Someone speaks with "tweed-skirted diction"; a dying man watches the words of a prayer "fly about the room like humming-birds"; and the bishop's PA tartly initiates a visitor into canon biscuit law--"Chocolates are for suffragans, bourbons for archdeacons. Vicars and curates get rich tea". --Susan Elkin
Easter is a masterpiece' - Time Out'A huge book written with wit, compassion and a sharp critical eye. The writing is packed with daring imaginative leaps. Apart from Arditti's brilliant comic skills, there is a deep moral core' - Financial Times'It's a delight to find a modern novel that takes religion and all the objections to it seriously as a subject: the rockpool of a London parish teems with all kinds of curious life' - Philip Pullman, Sunday Times'Arditti writes about Western Christianity, as it is manifest in the present Church of England, with pungency and satirical frankness. His style has Joycean echoes. Against a background of the conventional liturgies he places awful actualities in the lives of preachers and practitioners' - Muriel Spark