Most writers spend their entire careers trying to write a book as moving, as thought-provoking and as wise as `The Liars' Gospel'. Nearly all fail.
That Naomi Alderman has managed it by only her third novel is a minor wonder.
The book re-tells the story of Jesus from the perspective of four people who met him, but it does so much more. It tells the story of Rome's subjugation of the Jewish people. It shows how eye-witness accounts become stories, stories become myths, myths become accepted truths, and accepted truths change the world. And it shows how when leaders begin to believe in the myths that surround them it eventually destroys them and those they lead.
`The Liars' Gospel' is a novel of both epic scale and deep personal insight. It is exciting, funny, mournful, provocative, and beautifully written. Most importantly, this is not just a novel for Jews, Christians or fans of historical fiction. The events described have shaped the modern world, and this novel offers a different way of understanding how we got to where we are today, and there are clear parallels implied between then and now. Alderman is too skilful to write a polemic, understanding only too well that history is too complicated for shallow consideration, that all sides have motivations however misguided they may be. This is a novel that lives and breathes through characterisation and the quality of its prose, not by heavy-handedly hammering home a `message'.
A major work by a novelist who is fast becoming one of our most essential writers. If there's been a better book released in 2012 I have yet to read it. Sadly, it is almost certainly too good to win the Booker.