Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Low expectations

As noted previously, I accepted a review copy of The Expected One, by Kathleen McGowan, as a guilty pleasure, a literary junk-food indulgence for my fascination with secret societies and religious conspiracies a la The DaVinci Code; but the novel surpassed my low expectations.

If you're familiar with premise of the Code, then nothing in The Expected One will shock you, although McGowan has pursued slightly different lines of enquiry to reach rather different conclusions regarding the bloodlines of Mary Magdelene and the societies and intrigue they fostered. It's much less "thriller" than the blurbs imply. It's altogether gentler, in its ideas and in their delivery. While the prose isn't exactly luminous or clever, it isn't intrusively bad. Certainly the language is smoother and the characters more believable than in Kate Mosse's Labyrinth, or the Code for that matter.

The novel includes excerpts from the gospel of Mary Magdelene. To my ear these are the weakest parts of the book, never managing to capture an appropriate language or attitude. On the other hand, the retelling of the contents of that gospel is fairly simple, and quite poignant. It is, after all, the greatest story ever told, all the better for no fancy literary stylings.

The book's official website includes an image gallery highlighting some of the works featured in the novel — less clues to holy secrets than inspiration to examine history through its artistic interpretations and symbols.


McGowan's claim to be of the holy lineage I find to be, umm, flaky, along with other of her beliefs and interests, and a quick poke around the internet reveals that she has a history of shaky credibility. That aside, the book was a pleasant way to spend a few hours. It ain't high literature, but any book that inspires us to examine the nature of our relationship to religion and to the Church, to answer the what-ifs and consider their implications, whether in our souls or in the world, or simply to help imagine oneself in the south of France is worth something. (But then, I'm an atheist, and I've been to the south of France.)

Wow, that's an awful lot I have to say about a book I didn't think I'd be "reviewing."

It turns out this is Book 1 of a series (of I know not how many). Early in the book, the protagonist cites Marie Antoinette as the clearest example of a victim of historians (...written by the winners, and all that) and over a couple pages paints a sympathetic portrait of her. In the end pages, McGowan teases us that she'll meet us soon in Chartres Cathedral, bring your collected works of Dumas with you. It's fitting that I'm about to begin The Knight of Maison-Rouge.
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