In autumn 1998 I spent a few days revisiting old haunts in Washington DC, a city I’d briefly lived in at the start of the previous decade. So I went back to Adams Morgan, wandered through Rock Creek Park to Dumbarton Oaks and strolled down the yellow and gold-strewn streets of Kalorama. And I spent an afternoon browsing the bookshops around Dupont Circle. It was in one of these that I picked out a copy of this, and immediately knew that I had to buy it, not knowing quite why but certain that at some point in the future I would need it:
Allen surveys attempts to recover knowable facts (as opposed to credo, theological or polemical statements) about the man Jesus. She does so from the perspective of Catholic belief (which may seem an odd though entirely plausible starting point for such an enterprise) and concludes that all such attempts are doomed. Scant facts are known, nothing further is knowable. History fails us.
The scale of this challenge from within the community of faith took some time to sink in but the conclusion was unavoidable: historical fiction finds its openings in the gaps and spaces that join together (or just possibly keep apart) historical facts. And any attempt on this subject would require ambition, courage and a certain thorough-going determination.
I flew back to London with the author’s-proof copy in my luggage & still no idea how it came to be in a bookshop on 18th St NW. Then I started to read deeply among existing fictions set in the world of antiquity. And I started at the top – with Gore Vidal’s Julian.
But that must wait for another post . . . .