Paperback reviews: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Bhalla Strand, They Eat Horses Don’t They?, Clever Girl, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

 

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (Westbourne Press, £9.99)

****

The tracing of the “historical person that was Jesus of Nazareth”, as opposed to the individual religion has given us, is an exercise in tracing the fabrications. As Resa Aslan shows in his painstaking approach to the myths that surround the real-life individual, the trial in front of Pontius Pilate is a fabrication; the picture of Jesus as a peacemaker isn’t true either, and John the Baptist was a far bigger “star” at the time than the preacher born in a stable in Bethlehem when they first met (and the nativity story is almost certainly not true, either).

It’s understandable that Aslan’s book should have caused a huge storm, more so in the more evangelical US than it has here, where we seem readier to contemplate a historical Jesus separate from the Jesus that faith hands down. What is revealing though is how much more interesting the historical Jesus is. Aslan places him in the context of messianic figures that populated the region at the time, and also the militaristic atmosphere, with bandits operating against Rome, and uprisings aplenty. Jesus was crucified, Aslan argues, “because his messianic aspirations threatened the occupation of Palestine, and his zealoutry endangered the Temple authorities.” His execution, therefore, was a political one.

One of the places where the historical and the religious figures correspond is when it comes to miracles, not so much the performing of them as the granting of them free of charge. Aslan’s Jesus is an angry fighter of a man, an anti-capitalist and Jewish nationalist whose political edges are rubbed away by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and whose more radical tendencies have been downplayed by the Church ever since. Aslan isn’t the first to claim this for Jesus, but he is one of the more convincing, and more accessible, historians to do so.  

Bhalla Strand by Sarah Maine (Freight Books, £8.99)

***

There is an echo of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in Sarah Maine’s appealing debut novel, when human remains are found beneath the floorboards of a derelict mansion on a Scottish island. Bhalla Strand is the name of the house built for the artist Theodore Blake in the early part of the 20th century; Harriet Devereux is his modern-day great-niece who has inherited the place. She must decide whether to restore it or sell it, and finds the islander James Cameron utterly opposed to refurbishment. Parallel to the present-day is Blake’s story when he arrives at the house with his new, much younger bride, Beatrice, whom he has married on the rebound from a passionate affair in his youth. Their relationship is complicated by Cameron Forbes (the similarity in the names of both generations of men is intentional), who falls for Beatrice, who finds herself increasingly unhappy in her marriage. But one day Beatrice disappears – are the bones beneath the house hers? Maine writes well and clearly, and if her story is a little predictable in places, and a little too tidily completed, it is still a highly readable debut.     

They Eat Horses Don’t They? By Piu Marie Eatwell (Head of Zeus, £8.99)

***

Eatwell’s fun but informative cultural overview delights in exploding a few myths that the British in particular have about the French, but it’s also a timely answer back to the slew of studies promoting a French way of life, whether with reference to parenting, dressing or eating, as infinitely and always better. There are some surprises: despite their association with industrial strikes, fewer than ten per cent of French workers today belong to a union, and binge-drinking among the young has increased hugely. Fast food also accounts for seven out of ten meals eaten outside the home. It all suggests, perhaps regretfully, a more Anglo-American cultural experience than the typical French one we might assume. One observation escaped Eatwell, though: the number of e-books read by the French. On the Paris Metro, you will still find commuters reading print.  

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley (Vintage, £8.99)

***

For some reason, as intimate a tale as it is and as sympathetic a central character is Stella, Hadley’s account of a young girl’s growth to womanhood through the Fifties, Sixties and onwards failed somehow to touch me. Stella’s early life, first in impoverishment with just her mother, then later adjusting badly to a step-father by getting pregnant in her late teens by her rich, hippy boyfriend, is a highly sympathetic account, and her later relationship mistakes are also understandable ones. Perhaps that is the problem: there is so little here to object to in Stella, and even the regret that such a “clever girl” should have chosen the paths that she has, is mitigated by her lack of bitterness at the hand that fate has dealt her. Hadley is a deceptive writer, making hard things look easy, but here perhaps that deception is a little too smooth.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto (Penguin, £7.99)

***

Bhutto is an elegant, clear writer but this debut novel too often reads like personalised non-fiction. Three brothers are at the heart of it: ambitious Aman Erum, who abandons his childhood sweetheart for study in the States; Sikandar, the middle brother and a doctor whose wife, Mina, is coping badly with the loss of their child; and Hyat, the youngest, who has turned revolutionary, in cahoots with Aman Erum’s lost love, Samarra. In Samarra, we see what events might cause a young woman to turn to bombing, and in Mina we see the consequences of such violence. But these characters are all really ciphers who never feel like fully-fledged human beings, and with political points and historical analyses interjecting awkwardly and too often into the story, there’s a sense of the wrong emphases in the wrong places.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee