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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten


Jerusalem - Jez Butterworth Notgettingenough and I went to this critically acclaimed play a couple of nights ago at the West End. I watched the whole thing with rapt attention; Not, as she sometimes does, took a short nap halfway through. I imagined this would give me an advantage during the post-mortem, but I should have known better.

"So what did you think it was about?" she asked as we left the theatre.

"Um, dunno," I said. "Maybe a metaphor for the current state of England? I mean, here we are, rotten to the core, served with an eviction notice and a few hours to vacate the property, but we think our charm and verbal brilliance will somehow let us sneak out of it..."

"Was he supposed to be a Christ-figure?" interrupted Not, impatient with my slow mental processes.

I hadn't been alert, and as usual I'd failed even to consider the possibility. Just because Rooster Byron is a drunk who's banned from every pub in town and supplies the local kids with illegal substances while telling them preposterous lies and getting a few of the prettier girls pregnant, it hadn't crossed my mind that he might also be Jesus. Verily, the Day of the Lord cometh as the thief in the night: maybe we wouldn't recognise Him this time either, a theme James Blish also took pleasure in exploring. So how strong is the case here?

There was certainly a lot of camouflage. You wouldn't necessarily expect Christ to put a glass of tea-and-vodka down the front of his stained pants, cheat at Trivial Pursuits or recount off-colour jokes about having sex with the whole of Girls Aloud. But, just as with Lisbeth Salander, there were surprisingly many hints once you started looking for them. Why does everyone love the old reprobate so much, even the woman from the council who pins the eviction paperwork to the door of his grubby trailer? Why is he able to spread a mysterious joy and peace to so many people? (He drives a good many more mad with rage, but Jesus did that too). He claims to be a virgin birth, after an incident where a local philander is caught in flagrante and shot through the scrotum and the bullet, after multiple ricochets, ends up in his mother's panties. He's tortured and branded with a cross-shaped branding iron. But he rises again, and, at the end, he - maybe - summons heavenly assistance. And then of course there's the title.

It's a daring hypothesis, and Google turns up few other people who've had the same thought. Even though I still can't quite believe it, kudos to Not for lack of conventional religious prejudices. And whatever the message, it's definitely worth seeing.