If it's a faithful reconstruction of the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels you're after, this book will probably really annoy you. If, on the other hand, you're after a fictionalised account that draws on the hints and suggestions in the New Testament to construct a character who could help envision `a Christianity... inspired by women as much as by men' (as the author claims she has sought to do in her preface to this re-titled 2006 edition), then you'll probably enjoy it. Originally entitled `The Wild Girl' when published in 1984, it's about a Mary Magdalene who is a conflation of three women from the Gospels: the sister of Martha of Bethany, the spirit-possessed prostitute and the woman with the alabaster jar. Strong-willed and visionary, Mary is a woman who knows her own mind, but is drawn to Jesus both spiritually and physically as one who can help her find true meaning and true re-connection to God. As her relationship to Jesus deepens, she comes to be almost an archetypal woman seeking to transcend society's divisively rigid male and female roles - roles she sees united and blended in him, but which are divided once again after his death, almost from the moment Peter stands up as the fledgling movement's self-appointed (at least in this version) leader.
In Peter's world, Mary's status as the first witness to Jesus' resurrection seems to count for nothing, and the upheaval that results is mirrored by a titanic struggle in her soul during a three-day catalepsy. During this, she wrestles spiritually with complex emotions amidst a welter of symbolism and referencing - there are echoes of the Gospel of Thomas, for example, and the Gnostic Text, `Thunder, Perfect Mind'. Her visceral hatred for the way she - again, as archetype - has been treated by men resolves itself into something more hopeful that understands that her future role must be as witness to the gender stereotype-transcending Jesus.
I enjoyed this read, though it is very disconcerting at times. Whether Roberts succeeds with her stated aim is perhaps another question, ultimately one about how far you can take a major literary and religious symbol like Mary Magdalene and stretch her before she breaks and becomes something else. But it's a question well worth asking yourself as this memorable novel unfolds.