A topic in fiction that has always fascinated me is art. It seems to me that there is a meta quality to it and it gives a novel a certain depth. Of course this can apply to other topics but I’ll give some examples of the other worldliness. Take, Ali Smith and Siri Hustvedt in How to Be Both and The Blazing World: both used art to challenge notions of gender. In Özgür Uyanik’s Conception art is seen as an extreme act. On a popular level Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love looks towards art as social satire.
Iain Hood’s This Good Book also takes art into new territories; Art student graduate Susan Macleod meets Douglas MacDougall and decides that he would be the perfect subject for a work depicting The crucifixion. From then the book delves into the role of crucified Jesus Christ in art. This ranges from Pier Pasolini’s film The Gospel According to Matthew, Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, Salvador Dali’s portrayal of The Crucifixion and, the main source, the Gospels.
There are other points to the crucifxion in the book, there are 14 chapters, which allude to the stations of the cross, which start with his condemnation and end with him being placed in a sepulchre. Susan and Douglas’ journey follows the same route, with a more comedic angle. It also takes Susan 14 years to complete this painting.
In the meanwhile (in other words when he is not posing for Susan) Douglas is gaining a reputation as an artist by displaying bags of urine; which causes tensions between him and Susan and also presents a contrast. When Douglas is with her he suffers as he has to pose on a cross, when he’s on his own his popularity increses.
This Good Book works as a commentary on the ‘art is life, life is art’ idea but I thought how the author inserts Christ’s crucifixion into this philosophy to be clever. It’s also funny and has an offbeat writing style, which utilises Scottish dialect. Whether one is into religion or not This Good Book’s innovative use of art is definitely worth a read. Dona nobis pacem
Many thanks to Renard Press for providing a copy of This Good Book
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