The Greatest Story Ever Told – (2 stars)

GARDEN OF EDEN, LEBANON – The local Eden council is going a bundle on this new “Bible” book but having had an advance copy, I can only assume they are desperately trying to justify all the tax breaks they gave to the publishers to set it here.

I don’t have any inside knowledge of the negotiations but you can imagine the pitch. “Paradise,” the Bible lot would’ve said. “We’ll show everyone the great side of Garden of Eden. It’s going to be so big, from now on people will be using the name Eden as a synonym for paradise itself.”

It would’ve been a tempting proposition. Locals know we’ve never really recovered from the great snake infestation of the Year of Our Lord ’09 to the Year of Our Lord ’10. And scenes set in Garden of Eden in the book have drastically fewer of the little buggers than even the most optimistic of us would have hoped.

But however loudly the council insists Bible is great for the county, they can’t pretend there are many chapters and verses that even refer to Garden of Eden. Myself, I would’ve insisted some scenes take place during our buttermilk festival and at the very least demanded they include better transit information than just “a garden in the east”. We have a terrific Garden of Eden app, would it have hurt to have even one character use it on his iPhone?

If Bible really does go worldwide as the publishers hope then readers are actually going to think we only have two people living here. I suppose we should be thankful that Bible doesn’t draw attention to the terrible overcrowding problems we have in the Garden of Eden suburbs but this goes so far that you have to think there’s something wrong with the place. Did everybody leave? Does the sewage system run itself?

Do this pair run all the hotels and the bars? You have a bite to eat in the Tree of Life pub, then take a stroll and we’re supposed to believe there’s Adam again flogging ice creams.

He really is a bit dull, that Adam. The other character is Eve. Bible doesn’t go in for surnames much, I expect it’s a legal thing, but it left me wondering whether they were really married or just saying so. Because, Eve, kid, if there ain’t a ring and there ain’t no kids tying you down, you could do a lot better for yourself.

Such as get yourself into some of the better chapters of the book. After it’s done with making Garden of Eden sound like a haven for thickos – it hints that we’re all PC users with its thinly-veiled piece of product placement for Apple – then this Bible does move on to the real meat of the story. We get intrigue, betrayals, all good stuff, just not much of it here in Eden.

There is a lot of it elsewhere, in fact there’s a lot everywhere else in the book, but it does tend to try impressing us by sheer volume rather than quality. I tell you, this book could’ve done with another pass at the editing stage. There are huge sections that make the whaling stuff in Moby Dick look short. I mean, I like that we get a list of all the characters: this is a sprawling tale and it’s hard to keep track. But, seriously, there are verses that consist of nothing but this fella begat that fella.

Okay, that’s fine at the start when Abraham begat Isaac because then we’re thinking this is all kicking off now, some serious family stuff is going to happen, but I admit I sank a bit then when Isaac begat twelve patriarchs. Are we going to get the complete life history of all twelve? No. Most of the time Bible gets into these huge begat passages and we never hear of half of these people again. It’s probably a metaphor for life and how most of us get through our days without making any impact above the odd court summons for a parking ticket.

But by doing that, it really focuses our attention on those characters that Bible does follow up. These must be crackin’ important, you think, but generally no, not so much. Even the ones that are key seem to come and go too quickly.

You’ll have seen from the press interviews that King Herod is a real badass and that’s true: it’s a very exciting segment of the book and if you’re a parent like me, you’re going to be shocked at what he gets up to. Only, that’s like the tiniest part of this epic. It feels like it’s over before it begins. The whole book skips on faster and faster, never really stopping to explore the drama it creates and often, frankly, leaving me bemused. What the hell is myrrh?

Part of the problem – and again, I have no inside knowledge here but it’s obvious just from reading it – is that this Bible has been written by committee. I assumed at first that the reason we don’t get an author’s name was that it was done by someone really important, someone who couldn’t be named. But slog through those begats enough and you soon see that they don’t add up, that different writers have taken different liberties.

One writer, for instance, pads out a few chapters with the begats and really only to make the point that this new hero character, Jesus, is directly descended from King David through his dad’s side. Fine. Joseph comes from family. Got it. But in what I can only presume is a segment hived off to a freelance because the deadline was getting close, another part has Joseph claiming that Jesus isn’t his kid at all.

Maybe they were trying to set up some deep psychological stuff for later, get this Jesus struggling with father-rejection issues, that kind of thing. If so, they never follow it up.

Instead, the writers try to have it all with some light mystery kind of thing. The book really needs more laughs, but this is its sole set-piece comedy: Joseph gets Mary pregnant and when he’s caught lying about it, he does that classic farce thing of exaggerating further and further. I won’t spoil it by telling you how big the lie becomes, but by the end it is truly a whopper.

I did enjoy that and you know it’ll be a great scene if they ever make a film. But then it is right back into the sombre, dreary stuff with bizarre tirades against the banking system that I think are the writers just trying to be topical.

They should’ve concentrated more on the story and most definitely on the characters. The publishers are billing this as “the greatest story ever told” but I’m very much afraid that is pure hype. There are some interesting moments but what few good characters it has are woefully underused and I swear there isn’t a single plot twist in the entire book.

Maybe now it’s set up such a lot of backstory, the rumoured sequel will be better. But for now, I really can’t recommend this book to anyone and certainly not if you know anything at all about what life is really like here in Garden of Eden City.

Bible is published in hardback by Caxton and Kindle by Amazon

One thought on “The Greatest Story Ever Told – (2 stars)

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