The Final Testament of the Holy Bible – James Frey

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Five words from the blurb: Messiah, New York, healing, enraged, controversial

James Frey is clearly courting controversy with this book. The title and Bible-like lay-out of the text will cause offense to some people before they’ve read a single word. Frey ensures that this outrage is continued by filling the first chapter with an unusually high density swear words – the concentration of which isn’t repeated anywhere else in the book.

I had no plans to read this book, but a copy popped through my letter box from the publishers and once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. The basic premise is that the Messiah is alive and living in New York. I found the concept interesting as anyone in our society who claims that they can perform miracles or speak to God is generally not taken very seriously.

Each chapter is written from the perspective of a person who comes into contact with Ben Zion (the supposed son of God). Initially the narrators know little about the man, but as the book progresses we hear from those who are closer to him and so more information is revealed.

I loved the first half of this book – it was fast paced and entertaining. In many ways it reminded me of a Dan Brown book, but with better structure and less historical research.

The text was initially a lot less controversial than I had expected from the cover. Whenever a potentially controversial statement was made it was balanced by another character expressing the opposing view, or by one so charming that few could disagree with it:

Biblical stories were written decades, and sometimes centuries, after the events they supposedly depict, events for which there is absolutely no historical evidence. There is no such thing as God’s word on earth. Or if there is, it is not to be found in books.
Then where is it to be found?
In love. In the laughter of children. In a gift given. In a life saved. In the quiet of morning. In the dead of night. In the sound of the ocean, or the sound of a car. It can be found in anything, anywhere. It is the fabric of our lives, our feelings, the people we live with, things we know to be real.

Unfortunately the book went downhill towards the end. We started to see the ways in which Ben Zion ‘loved’ everyone and I felt that James Frey was just trying to throw as many controversial scenes into the text as possible. It wasn’t necessary for him to sleep with everyone (male and female) and I was inwardly groaning as he made a girl pregnant and then took her for an abortion. It wasn’t necessary and just undermined what could have been a good book.

I also struggled with the writing style in the last 100 pages – it became overly sentimental and more like something written by Mitch Albom than the faster pace of the first section.

I found much of the book entertaining, but ultimately I was disappointed by the way in which controversial scenes were added to the text for no good reason. This book is guaranteed to start a conversation, but unfortunately it isn’t going to be a very intelligent one.

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  1. cbjames says:

    This is not a book I would ever read, for many reasons, probably not even if it arrived free in the mail. Your last line sums up all my reasons for not reading it.

    But, I’m glad I had the chance to read your review of it. Thanks.

    1. Ditto what cbjames said!

      1. Jackie says:

        I’m pleased I was able to let you know a bit more about it. I totally understand why you wouldn’t want to read it – you aren’t missing much ;-)

  2. parrish says:

    I heard about this on the BBC news, it appears It’s being released on good friday, with the apparent reason of inviting controversy & thus publicity. It as tho the books not good enough to stand on its own. I would have probably read this out of curiosity, but the courting controversy kind if puts me off.

    1. Jackie says:

      parrish, It was released in the UK yesterday and I was quite shocked when I checked that this book is indeed being released in the US on Good Friday. It is sad that he wants to provoke people so much (and without actually having a message he wants to get across). I don’t mind controversial books – if there is a point, but this book doesn’t seem to have one :-(

  3. I quite like retellings of bible stories (I’m not religious) but don’t like things to be controversial for contraversy’s sake. I will stick to Canongate Myths!

    1. Jackie says:

      Ellie, I have heard great things about Canongate myths – I really should try and read one. I like the idea of reading a modern day retelling of the story – it is a shame this one was ruined towards the end. :-(

  4. Sandy says:

    Blech. He is just trying to draw attention to himself by pushing buttons (again) so my opinion is that he can kiss it. At this point, I don’t really care how good an author he is. I am being snotty, so sorry. I have no patience for the man. I do appreciate that you read it to inform the rest of us so we don’t have to read it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think that here in the UK he receives a lot less press than over in the US. I’m aware that he has caused controversy in the past, but don’t know the details. Perhaps if I’d had the same exposure to him as you I’d feel the same.

  5. Jenners says:

    Sounds like he is looking for trouble with this one. I hope he doesn’t claim it to be true! HAHA!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I don’t think he is claiming it to be true, but he is certainly looking to wind people up :-(

  6. Darlyn says:

    I agree with the above commenters. James Frey is just trying to draw attention to himself, and I think the last line of your review summed his work up perfectly.

    1. Jackie says:

      Darlyn, Such a shame that he seems to like drawing attention to himself in this way. :-(

  7. “Oh look here’s controversy now buy my book”

    No we won’t Mr Frey, no we won’t – read

    1. Jackie says:

      DamnedConjour, Yes. I read that article when it was first published – he certainly comes across as being a very strange man.

  8. jcee says:

    Yes I couldn’t agree more that the marketing ploy seems to be about deliberately whipping up controversy, or trying to. Frey seems to be driven by the need-to-be-famous and appears ready to do whatever it takes to grab attention.

    After the furor over “A Million Little Pieces” and the outing of the book on The Smoking Gun, there is good reason to be attentive to Frey’s sources. Truth is there is nothing original about his Messiah version, it has been before. The John Niven book “The Second Coming” also features a dope smoking Messiah who likes to get laid on occasion.

    Post calling into question Frey’s motives on Drive-by Times:

    Also a multi-panel cartoon of Frey’s Messiah Ben Zion turning bad dope into good dope:

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