GETHSEMANE REVISITED by James Brophy
Matador p/b £10.00
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This is a tale about time travel, but it is not time travel as it is generally presented. It is a story of a young man learning as he grows up that he possesses the facility to displace himself in time, the influences that initiate the journeys he makes in time, and the wider effects this has on him and those around him. If you are looking for sensations, then you will find this story very dull. If, on the other hand, you are looking for moral arguments concerning time travel, then this will do you very well.
The tale opens with a visit to Nazi Germany in 1929, before the accession of Hitler to power. Now, this is a very odd choice for an exercise in time travel, but there are family reasons that drive Jerome Black to seek an interview with this monster. His grandmother was a child in Germany at the time and often spoke to him about the spoiled `Nazi princes’. Such characters appear in other literature, both fiction and non-fiction, as `golden peacocks’, a practical criticism of fascist populism. Jerome quickly learns that these cruel people are not to be trifled with.
The early insertion of this episode in the book is a deliberate attempt in providing a taste of exotic spice into what can be seen as a fairly boring family narrative. We learn all about the dynamics of Jerome’s life, and it takes us up to page 95 out of a book of 395 pages before we get another sniff at time travel. One gets the feeling that the Hitler episodes were inserted earlier in the book to stimulate the reader’s attention.
Before she dies, Jerome’s grandmother, who was a co-conspirator in his travels, had encouraged him to visit the Holy Land to meet Jesus of Nazareth. Jerome contrives to be present at the Sermon on the Mount. To those who are not familiar with this event, this is the place where what later came to be seen as the Christian Gospel was first fully articulated. Brophy deserves some credit for the way in which he handles this episode.
Jerome talks to Mary Magdalene and the disciple Matthew, who is said to have articulated the Sermon in full in his Gospel. Both characters are presented in a perfectly open and rational form. They explain themselves clearly and state why they follow Jesus. In many ways, these are the most sympathetic parts of the entire work. It is a pity Brophy isn’t so clear with the character of Jesus, but this is really a ploy for a later passage in the book. He does, however, very carefully present the protective role played by the disciples.
These time-travelling episodes change young Jerome, who is now at university. His close friends and relatives detect a fast-growing maturity and demand explanations. Since he has kept his time-travelling a secret, this starts to present him with personal challenges. His failure to explain himself causes rifts and unhappiness.
He returns to the Holy Land to speak again with Jesus, this time in the garden of Gethsemane shortly before Jesus is arrested. He arrives looking for a message from Jesus but finds him as confused and uncertain about things as himself. It is only in the latter part of their conversation that Jerome realises that he is there to deliver a message to sustain Jesus through his coming Passion. God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.
This is an agreeable, unexciting tale that manages to raise fascinating challenges. A slow burn!