Home > Uncategorized > Book Review: The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, by James Frey

Book Review: The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, by James Frey

James Frey is notorious. His memoirs, A Million Little Pieces, caused uproar when it was revealed that they were partly fabricated; he was dropped by publishers, sued by readers who felt they had been duped, and famously berated by Oprah Winfrey. Since then it seems that he enjoys skirting controversy. He started a book packaging firm called Full Fathom Five, in which he collaborates with young writers in creating commercial young adult novels and keeps most of the rights for himself, forcing the other author into anonymity with odd secrecy clauses. He’s even said that his goal is to be the most controversial author of his time. His latest novel, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, is another attempt at reaching this goal.

The book follows a man called Ben Zion in New York City, who may or may not be the second coming of Christ. He survives a horrendous accident, which afterwards causes him to have seizures. It is during these seizures that Ben claims to ‘speak to God’. He can also recite religious scripture he’s never read, can heal the sick, and ‘changes’ everyone that he meets, taking away their hardships and helping them let go of any grief. He gathers a group of followers, and is wanted by the FBI for being part of an armed ‘apocalyptic cult’. Loved by the people, hunted by the authorities. Sounds like Jesus to me.

Frey’s protagonist is not your everyday messiah however. He’s completely secular, and hates organised religion. He preaches a hippy-like and altogether very kitschy philosophy of ‘love will conquer all’, and slams the Bible. When challenged over his statement that God’s word is not to be found in books, Ben says that it is found ‘in love. In the laughter of children. In a gift given. In a life saved. In the quiet of the morning. In the dead of the night. In the sound of the ocean, or the sound of a car’. It struck me as odd that part of Ben being the messiah is the fact that he is able to recite any religious text without ever having even picked one up, and yet he considers them nothing but ‘historical curiosities’

The book has Frey’s unique style and is written from thirteen different points of view. Each voice is well defined and the story flows well despite the change in narrator every chapter. The tone, then, is obviously variable. It goes from a street-wise hooker to an Evangelist Pastor, a wise Rabbi to a homeless cult member. It all accumulates into a well-told and intriguing story. I didn’t lose interest and read it in a couple of days.

The only part that might have made me want to put the book down was the sappy message. There’s nothing new said here; James Frey is not breaking any new philosophical ground, and it’s all a bit too simplistic and cheesy. I’d like to believe that to solve all the world’s problems all we need to do is start loving each other and have mass orgies every night, as they do in the book, but every time I read a passage that preached this idea I was reminded of those kids in school who said that if every world leader sat around together smoking pot, they’d achieve world peace.

You get past this, however, with the help of Frey’s startling writing talent. His previous books as well as this invoked images and raw emotions within me that few other writers can. It’s obvious that he has an extraordinary gift for storytelling, and it is this that carries you through the book.


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