Educated at Millfield School in Somerset and at Brasenose College, Oxford, Mawer took a degree in biology and worked as a biology teacher for many years. His first novel, Chimera, was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1989, winning the McKitterick Prize for first novels. Mendel's Dwarf (1997), reached the last ten of the Booker Prize and was a New York Time "Book to Remember" for 1998. The Gospel of Judas, The Fall (winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature) and Swimming to Ithaca followed. In 2009 The Glass Room, his tenth book and eighth novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Mawer is married and has two children. He has lived in Italy for over thirty years.
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This haunting and ironic novel takes us into the heart, mind, and family history of a dedicated priest living in Rome, giving the reader a rare look at his insecurities, the internal battles he faces, and the constant choices he must make. Father Leo Newman is an expert in ancient scrolls from the Dead Sea. Called to investigate a new, intact scroll in Jerusalem, he makes the startling discovery that this scroll is a record of what happened immediately after the crucifixion, as witnessed by Judas and Paul. Its transcription and publication will call into question the accuracy of the more familiar gospels, all of which were written later than this scroll, and which have, until now, been the underpinnings of Christianity and its traditions. Mawer takes us into the mind of Father Leo as he battles the demons of doubt unleashed by his discovery, and other, entirely mundane demons represented by his love for Madeleine Brewer, the wife of a diplomat. As the novel spirals from the present to the very near past and into the more distant past of Father Leo's childhood during World War II and back again, we see fascinating parallels between the betrayals Father Leo commits, and those of his mother, and of Judas. The roles of Mary Magdalen, Madeleine, and Magda, all of whom even share a name, continue these intriguing parallels and expand the novel's themes. As Mawer investigates the many kinds of love--love of mankind, love of God, and romantic love--he also shows us the multiplicity of threats to these kinds of love, and the difficulty of facing personal challenges armed only with black and white arguments.Read more ›
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Quite simply, an astounding novel!21 Feb. 2003
David M. Gordon
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Life is what we make of it, and (Father) Leo Newman (the story's protagonist) has made a botch of his. And just as his religious faith begins to fall prey to his mounting doubts, Madeleine Brewer ("Maddy" - Mawer's choice of character names is subtly clever) enters the scene, and away they go; displacing thought for action, the cerebral for the physical. Mawer conflates this love triangle - Maddy is married to a British diplomat; Leo is married to his faith and religion - with the discovery of another gospel, this one by Judas Iscariot. What Leo, as translator of the parchment, learns about Jesus Christ and the birth of Christianity causes him to view the religious and the secular in a different light... This book's marketing can create some confusion: is it a dialectic about faith, a thriller, a love story? It is each of these, and more. Simon Mawer has managed - artfully, gracefully - to ensnare the reader into entertaining even enjoying the questions (and some answers) that transcend our individual lives. *The Gospel of Judas* is, quite simply, an astounding novel - perhaps the best novel I have read in several years! Admittedly, it does include ALL of the topics and issues that *I* find so thrilling: faith, religion, history, and language. Mawer's love of language mimics his love for the quotidian, and allows him to tell a tale for all. But don't take my word for it, on faith; check it out for yourself. You must see, smell, feel, and read this novel, to believe it. Highest recommendation.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Leaves the reader thinking19 May 2001
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Near the Dead Sea, a new scroll from the time of Jesus has been discovered. The church sends Rome teacher-scholar Father Leo Newman to investigate and translate the newest find. Leo is going through a difficult period as he has doubts about his chosen avocation ever since he met and sinned by having an affair with Madeline Brewer. Still, Leo immediately travels to Jerusalem to join an international team inspecting the rich find, but his assignment is to concentrate on one particular papyrus.
Leo quickly realizes that the document the Church sent him to inspect apparently contains the Gospel accordance to Judas Iscariot. Instead of supporting the other Gospels, this scroll denies much of what has been claimed. Leo begins to comprehend how Judas felt when he condemned his best friend to death. THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS is an insightful look at the Judas betrayal but in a modern text and through Leo's break in faith. The story line is fast-paced especially in an allegorical manner that compares Leo to Judas. The flashbacks to World War II are cleverly written, but the story belongs to the Leo-Judas relationship that, in turn, proves how talented Simon Mawer truly is.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Beautifully Written Novel Of Doubt & Betrayal!14 Nov. 2003
Jana L. Perskie
- Published on Amazon.com
"The Gospel of Judas" is a novel containing three skillfully woven storylines, all sharing the theme of betrayal. The events are recounted in flashbacks to a time a few years before the present, and to a period during WWII in Italy. Underlying the entire narrative is the theme of Judas Iscariot. When I hear the name Judas, I immediately associate it with the word "betrayal." Some of the questions this novel poses are, who was Judas? Did he betray? Has religious history given Judas a bad rap?
Father Leo Newman, a Roman Catholic priest, is a biblical scholar working in Rome for the World Bible Center. He is an expert at deciphering, translating and interpreting the bits and pieces of ancient papyrus discovered in Near Eastern archeological sites that deal with biblical history, especially those pertaining to New Testament writings. Newman is lonely, middle-aged, and somewhat ascetic. When the novel opens, he finds himself at a crossroads of sorts, questioning the value of his passionless existence, his life's work in the Church and his faith in God. He thinks, at one point, "And indeed, what kind of faith was it? A poor, dried-out thing, a construct put together of habit, defiance and anxiety." For the first time since his adolescence Leo finds himself attracted to a woman, Madeline Brewer, the wife of a British diplomat. Madeline, (and the author is quick to point out the similarity in the names Madeline and Magdalene), senses that the attraction is mutual and overtly pursues a friendship with the priest - and then a stronger emotional relationship, and then...much more.
It is during this relationship between Madeline and Leo that papyrus fragments are discovered, in a dig near the Dead Sea, which may be the writings of Christ's disciple, Judas Iscariot. This potential "Gospel of Judas" could, if proved to be authentic, blow apart the foundation of Christianity and also the foundation on which Father Leo Newman has built his life. Newman is called upon to study the parchments for validation and interpretation.
While Leo is taxing his emotional limits, dealing with the Judas Gospel and his adulterous relationship with Madeline, Simon Mawr takes us back further in time to Italy during the war years. He seeks to explain Leo's troubled past by giving the reader a glimpse of his German parents' lives, and their characters, during the years prior to his birth. What is revealed here is astonishing in itself, as a story of terrible pain, conflict and betrayal, and also in the parallels to the emotional upheavals that Leo Newman is experiencing in the present.
Simon Mawr masterfully intertwines his stories as his characters cope with issues of faith, identity, responsibility, love, betrayal and loss - and what it means to believe. Betrayal permeates the narrative, beginning with relationships, events and lies which occur before Leo's birth, and continuing with his own, and Madeline's. The question also arises of whether to betray the truth - the facts of the new incendiary text, and perhaps, even the person who Judas was.
Mawr's prose is extraordinary, as usual, his characters sensitive and believable, their development is solid, and his research is impeccable. I was left, however, with a feeling of dissatisfaction at the novel's conclusion. I grew to care about the people Mawr created, especially Leo Newman. I found myself drawn into their lives and psyches. Mawr's ending left me hanging. His intelligent narrative built considerable tension as the novel's various scenarios played out, but I was left feeling that many of the issues were never resolved adequately enough to dispel the tension. Nor did Mawr answer many of the questions the novel posed. After such a glorious telling, the tale ended on a flat note. JANA
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Mary Doria Russell's new favorite author26 Feb. 2003
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I suppose I should be grateful that The Gospel of Judas hadn't been written until well after I published The Sparrow and Children of God. I wouldn't have bothered trying to write my own novels if I'd been able to read Simon Mawer's. I haven't been this enthralled with a writer since Dorothy Dunnett died. If you liked my books, you'll be glad I told you about Mawer's. He is a wonderful writer, interested in themes I also find fascinating: science, religion, faith, and character.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Too much or too little: take your pick16 Jun. 2002
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Simon Mawr is ambitious. In his *Gospel of Judas*, he wants nothing less than to paint a portrait of post-Christian doubt. The main character, Father Leo Newman, is an everyperson who represents those of us in the earlier 21 century who can no longer believe in the old religion and are forced to create new identities for themselves (the name "Newman" isn't accidental). As such, the novel is a kind of spiritual fin de siecle. Although this theme isn't exactly a new one, the spin that Mawr puts on it is quite wonderful: what happens to a man--to a culture--already on the religious edge when a new "gospel" is discovered that claims to have been written by Judas Iscariot and gives eyewitness testimony AGAINST the Resurrection? The good news, then, is the exciting concept that inspires the novel. The bad news, I fear, is that Mawr couldn't quite pull it off. The novel reads as if there are two books crammed into one: Newman's unhappy love affair with Madeleine Brewer, and Newman's involvement in the discovery and translation of the Judas Gospel. Either tale is a stand-alone novel. Shoved together, neither quite comes off. Too much time is dedicated to the love affair, too little to the gospel, such that the last 50 pages are breathless, as if Mawr is furiously trying to tie all the loose ends together. Nor does it help that Mawr tries to weave together two different sets of flashbacks into the story line. One of the casualties of this shaky structure is Father Leo himself, who comes across as a curiously wooden figure. We never quite understand who or what he is. Nor is his enigmatic nature, I believe, intentional on Mawr's part. It comes from the fact that Newman isn't fully developed as a literary character, and that in turn comes from the fact that the novel is either too long or too short, depending on your perspective. Either separate its two tales, or extend the narrative far enough to do justice to them both. Still, Mawr is a wonderful wordsmith who can do beautiful and sometimes breathless things with the language. Moreover, the female characters in this novel are masterfully portrayed, particularly Magda. *The Gospel of Judas* is flawed, but it's well worth a read.