All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Gospel According To Luke – Emily Maguire

on November 3, 2012

The Gospel According To Luke
Emily Maguire
Picador
2009 (originally 2006), 303p
Read from my TBR pile

Aggie Grey is a sexual health counsellor at a clinic in the heart of Paramatta in western Sydney. Across the road there has suddenly sprung up a Youth Centre, the brainchild of religious group Christian Revolution. While Aggie counsels young girls on drug addiction and unwanted pregnancy, across the road preaches abstinence and purity of all description. It’s only natural that Aggie and the pastor Luke aren’t going to be getting along and when Aggie finds that the Youth Centre is distributing pamphlets that are defamatory towards Aggie’s clinic, she sees red. What she does is hard enough without judgement and prejudice coming in the form of a fundamentalist group who have only been in the area five minutes.

But what both Aggie and Luke don’t expect is the attraction that flares up between them, despite the fact that they are diametrically opposed on just about everything. Aggie is the child of a free-spirit lesbian and a doctor who took his own life. She has been married and had several relationships. She believes in the freedom of choice and health and safety above all else. Luke doesn’t know his origins, he found God and that gave him the strength he needed to forge his career and his life. He believes in sexual relations only after the bonds of holy matrimony, of praying and consulting the Lord on all things, he believes that he is part of God’s grand plan. He does not support the right to choose, he supports the right of life, all life. They shouldn’t work in any world. They can’t work – but why can’t they keep away from each other?

Honey is sixteen and pregnant. From a heartbreaking background, she doesn’t have the support she would require to go through with it. She makes an appointment with Aggie in order to get the necessary referral. This leads to Honey meeting Luke and Luke sees opportunity, he sees what his path should be. The chance to give Honey the ability to choose life, to embrace the Lord and a new future. As Aggie, Luke and Honey fight over the right decision for all concerned, there is a savage group hell-bent on getting their message out to everybody, with life-changing consequences.

Every now and then you read a book that forces you out of your comfort zone. It might make you go to places you don’t want to, or think about things you haven’t before (or haven’t wanted to). For me, this was one of those books. I have a bit of a girlcrush on Emily Maguire – this is the third novel of hers that I’ve read in probably less than 2 months and all of them have been fascinating.

Abortion has been in the news a little lately, due to some very ill-thought out comments from Republican candidates in the upcoming American federal election. I’m not American (nor is the author, we are both Australian) but I find similarities in the thoughts of the right-wing Republicans and the fundamentalist Christian Revolution group in this book. I’ve watched as American female friends of mine have despaired over the debate about rape and abortion and the fact that upper middle class white men think that they have the right to legislate and dictate what right a woman has to put in her body (hormonal birth control), what is defined as rape and whether or not they should have the right to abort an unwanted or undesirable pregnancy. I’m extremely up front about my strong belief that it is a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. Not her state member’s right. Not her head of government’s right. And certainly, certainly not her religious minister’s right.

I don’t know how Emily Maguire wrote some of the passages in this book so objectively! Luke is a religious zealot. Abandoned as a baby, raised in an orphanage and embraced into religion at an early age, every thing he does in his life is governed by his deep and abiding faith in his God. This occasionally (okay, often) leads to him sounding like a clueless, pretentious twat. He’s so innocent it’s almost painful. For a start, the Christian Revolution Youth Centre is in Parramatta. Not exactly the most wholesome of communities, is Parramatta. It’s clear that Luke has absolutely no idea what it’s like to be staring down the barrel of single motherhood at 16, poor, no options. He sees only the possibility of a beautiful baby but the reality is that baby is going to be most likely born into a cycle of abuse, neglect and poverty. He has no idea what this pregnancy could involve for Honey, what it could do to her, psychologically and physically. Having a baby is no picnic, I should know, I’ve had 2 of them. And I wasn’t a 16yo girl with no support network either. Luke thinks the Church can be Honey’s support but they are ill equipped to deal with her and really give her what she needs because they are so focused on their message of abstinence and purity and faith and that simply isn’t Honey’s reality. In contrast, Aggie offered her options, but didn’t pressure her into any of them. Luke is disgusted at Aggie “peddling abortion” when really it is Luke who is peddling false hope and security.  This volatile triangle of contradiction seems doomed for tragedy early in the piece.

And yet I couldn’t help but be taken in by Aggie and Luke’s story. They shouldn’t have worked, I don’t know how Aggie could listen to what he said sometimes. Reading it infuriated me several times and I’d set the book aside and take several deep breaths before picking it up again. But there was a little beauty in their struggle too, especially Luke’s. His faith was everything to him. I’m not religious, so I don’t really understand such devotion to God. But Luke, for all his faults, I believe at heart, was a good man trying to do the very best he could in the calling he believed he had received. His feelings for Aggie confused him, she was obviously not the sort of woman he believed God would choose for him. He found himself unable to stay away from her (and her from him just as much).

The Gospel According To Luke asks some tough questions and not just of its characters but also its readers. I found myself thinking if I weren’t married, could I be with someone whose views were the exact opposite of my own, like Luke and Aggie’s feelings? Would the different opinions we had destroy the feelings we had? Or would someone have to change in order for it to work? Could I be with a religious person? Someone who wanted to go to Church, baptise our kids and involve religion in their every day lives? This is the sort of book that you think about, for a long time after finishing. Or at least, I know I will.

And that ending! Heartbreaking.

8/10

Book #222 of 2012

The Gospel According To Luke is the 72nd novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.


One response to “The Gospel According To Luke – Emily Maguire

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