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Biblical Novels

Shobhana Bhattacharji

By Marilynne Robinson
Virago, London, 2005, pp. 282, £14.99

By David Maine
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2005, pp. 258, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 9 September 2005

David Maine’s The Flood and Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead are Biblical novels, in a manner of speaking, but each is quite different to the other.   The Flood is the story of Noe1 from the building of the Ark to the settling of the world by his sons after the deluge. I read it at a sitting, which alarmed the author: “That makes me wonder if it’s thin and underdeveloped.” Not a bit of it. Novels based on a few slender Biblical verses fleshed out with some made up and some researched details were a definite genre in the 50s and 60s, but are almost extinct now, alas. The Flood isn’t a throwback to those novels. It is in the best tradition of the genre but distinctly contemporary. For instance, without beating drums and being earnest about it, it’s the story of the women. Part of the story is told from the point of view of the Wife, centuries younger than her husband, whose authority she neither likes nor understands but she obeys him. Except for Sem, her family is equally exasperated by Noe, but he talks to God who, of course, is not to be disobeyed. Noe’s daughters-in-law, a lively lot, each a strong woman in her way, are sent off to fetch animals from the regions of their origin. That takes care of racial and animal variety. Nicely done, too.   There’s also the really well done mela-like tamasha of crowds of sceptics who settle down, tents, families, and all, to watch Noe build his ship far inland, becoming more raucous and uncouth as the days go by. On board, Maine focuses on some very basic issues, e.g., small boat, many animals, much excreta. Definitely history from below. Maine is very good on Noe’s three sons, each with a personality you can recognize by his speech and attitude, a method of characterization that is not as common as we’d like it to be. I particularly liked Japhet, even though he is the least likeable when the novel opens. He is a young, confused, spoilt lout who has good in him which he is just not aware of, but it comes shining through in the episode of Noah’s drunkenness, an awkward moment in the original story which Maine recreates with delicate gravity. The book is an absolute joy ...

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