The Final Testament Of The Holy Bible By James Frey - A Book Review (Sort Of)

Source: aliceshole.blogspot.ca
Despite being an English Literature graduate, I have never written a book review. I may have discussed the ideas within a novel for an exam, racking my brain for another word instead of “symbolise” and droning on about how the author uses animal imagery to explore the notion of love (or something equally ridiculous), and yet I have never communicated my views of a book for pure pleasure. And so, I feel it is time to lose my book review virginity and thrust myself upon the literary analysis bandwagon (okay, too much. Ew).

When people saw my head constantly buried in The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, many curiously asked me what it was about. Usually, it’s fairly simple to conjure up a basic synopsis that fits; girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl sleeps with boss who treats her like dirt, girl falls in love with boy she initially hated (sound familiar? Well of course it does Mr Darcy, darling). On this occasion however, the task of explaining the narrative to each new individual became more and more difficult. “It’s about a guy who thinks he’s Jesus reborn.” “It’s about a guy who everyone thinks is Jesus reborn.” “It’s about a guy who is a modern day Jesus.” “It’s about God and Jesus and stuff.” “It’s about God, okay.” And then, as I turned the final page and slowly closed the book, I realised it’s not about any of those things. It’s about life.

The Final Testament is not for the faint hearted. It is not for the narrow minded, or the easily offended. Though considering James Frey’s literary past, this comes as no surprise. His first book, A Million Little Pieces, became the subject of a media storm when, after selling over four million copies and receiving a national nod from chat show queen Oprah, it was discovered that almost half of the supposed ‘memoir’ was fabricated. He was shunned by the press, dropped by his publisher, and became despised by writers and readers all over the world. And yet, Frey indulges in the scandals that surround him. In an interview with Big Think he stated “When the controversy blew up and I was written off by the publishing business and by the literary community, instead of being upset about it I was kind of excited. I was like, I had to work within your system […] I always knew I wasn't born to work in that system and I won’t ever do it again.”

It’s a wonder why an author would want to provoke such a response from critics and readers. Frey claims “there is a thrill to it, as weird as that sounds.” When I first heard the title of The Final Testament, my suspicions were that the book will be pitifully and deliberately controversial. What I got, however, was a stimulating piece of literature that surprisingly didn’t offend, despite many outraged reviews. Designed to resemble a Bible, the novel is divided into a collection of personal accounts, told from the perspectives of different people with apt names such as Luke, John and Esther. It begins with Mariangeles, an 18 year old Puerto Rican girl living in the Bronx. She describes her encounter with Ben Jones, an ‘ordinary white boy’ who moves in next door, her story the beginning of a series of accounts describing encounters with Ben, who, while some assume is Christ reborn, others believe to be a maniac.

Source: vice.com

Through writing The Final Testament, Frey poses a question that has been the topic of many lectures, religious essays and discussions; what would happen if a modern day Messiah were to exist? How would he behave, what would he believe, how would people react? This notion, although explored many times within literature, is a difficult one to get right, primarily because there is no right way about it. Frey’s Messiah has selected similarities with Christ; he refuses money or new clothes, opting for rags and food from bins. There is no mention of what occurred during the sixteen years between the ages of fourteen and thirty. He performs miracles and loves unconditionally. Despite this, Ben is a Christ-like figure that many people would shun; he advocates homosexuality, abortions and promiscuity, rejecting religion and holy books, claiming they are outdated. For him, God is not so much a religious figure but a spiritual force, and rather than worship, “love and laughter and fucking make one’s life better.” Ben’s ideas are not so much blasphemous as they are rational, and as someone whose beliefs are relatively secular, it’s a comforting perception.

The sexual promiscuity of Ben is an issue that many readers struggled with. His erotic encounters throughout the book include a prostitute, an overweight woman with low self-esteem, a young priest, and an orgy in the middle of a field, stating that “coming was the closest thing any human on earth would ever know about heaven.” This may seem like Frey’s attempt at getting a rise from the reader, and yet the sex mentioned within the book all simmer down to one notion; love. Through intercourse he gives them love, something they have never experienced before. They begin to love themselves and the people around them, and it becomes clear that ultimately this was Ben’s intent - this was his ‘mission’.

And so the message of the novel is to love. To love life, to love people, to be happy and not let any higher power, government or religion, dictate what happiness is and how one should live. Ben believes that the world is coming to an end, whether that be in the form of apocalypse or a drastic change within the world we know, and the only way to save humanity is to love; “Love is just taking care of each other [...] and letting each other live how we want to be living.”

As a reader, I admire and respect writers who go against the grain. Not only does it create a compelling read, but it challenges ideas that may have not been confronted before. While most attack Frey claiming he is blasphemous and conceited, I see this as a fresh outlook on the suggestion of the return of Christ (although I can’t deny his egotism, Frey has a huge head). The story is fantastical of course - it doesn't have to be taken literally, nor does it have to be taken seriously. Much like religion itself.

Note: I know I'm really late to be reading this book considering it came out four years ago, but I wanted to write a review nonetheless, because it intrigued me so. 


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