Ana is a rebellious young woman, a gifted writer with a curious, brilliant mind, who writes secret narratives about the neglected and silenced women around her. Raised in a wealthy family in Galilee, she is sheltered from the brutality of Rome’s occupation of Israel. Ana is expected to marry an elderly widower to further her father’s ambitions, a prospect that horrifies her. A chance encounter with the eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything: his ideas and his passion are intoxicating.
Taking Ana on a journey she could never have imagined, The Book of Longings is a glorious evocation of a time and a place where astounding events unfolded, and of one woman’s fate when she fights to make her voice heard.
So this is a weird one for me to review as Women’s fiction is one of my review criteria that I wont go for. Something about the synopsis for this one really stood out to me so I requested a copy of review. I usually get annoyed with people who review genres they don’t like and score low so I’m going to be as balanced as I can. Honestly, I started off really enjoying this book, I flew through the first 100 pages and I loved Ana as the protagonist, trailblazing her own style of feminism with her acts of defiance and disobedience. She is selfish within her own wants and needs, but really when those wants reflect a want to read and write and the need to not marry an old man who will likely offer her violence, these selfish moments can be forgiven. The writing is beautiful and to be savoured, it is not a book to speed read or picked up and put down. I especially loved Ana’s interactions with her Aunt Yaltha and to a degree it’s more of Yaltha’s story that Ana’s at times and Yaltha’s story felt more satisfying, which I think is down to the pure fiction of it. Ana’s was intrinsically linked to Jesus’s and that has set ending in theology.
So what happened to make me waver. Unfortunately the story, which had up to that managed to convey so much through senses of dread and fade to black became graphic in the depiction of still birth. Child loss is such a huge trigger for me and I struggled so hard to move past it for the rest of the book. The story took liberties with the depiction of Jesus having a wife so it didn’t really strike me initially as unreasonable that he could also have had a child in this depiction. Whilst Ana made a choice thereafter, it did mean that a book that I had initially found a joy to pick up became one that I struggled to come back to. Had it not been that from this point on the intensity of Yaltha’s story built so wonderfully I may not have continued. This is no flaw of the authors writing, just a real lesson in how an unexpected trigger can ruin a readers experience. Had I known it was coming I could have prepared myself or skipped those pages.
The sections in Alexandria were some of my favourite I think because they had a feeling of a historical fantasy at times and it also brought in more and interesting characters and developments which gave the book, a by that point, much needed change of tone and direction. I have to be fair to the writing when reviewing but I also have to be fair to myself and the unexpected shock of that scene left me in a bad place so the writing deserves a 4 star, however, I will bring that down to a 3.5 as I nearly didn’t come back to it because of that.
Thank you to Tandem Collective UK and Tinder Press for sending me the readalong copy.