The Testament of Gideon Mack The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
Publisher: Viking
Year: 2007
Pages: 400

There is no particular rhyme or reason for my reading The Testament of Gideon Mack. I was browsing the new releases at the library and happened to come across it. The cover promised a story about an atheist minister who meets the Devil in a deep underground cavern. The story was too damned intriguing to pass up.

It’s excruciating. Granted, Robertson’s written a marvelous character study, but the man’s a tease: The Testament… is written as though the book itself, Gideon Mack’s story in his own words, was “found.” The prologue, ostensibly written by the book’s fictitious publisher, gives a brief overview of the mystery: a minister who fell into a chasm where he should have died, but came out three days later miraculously alive and claiming that the Devil fished him out of the water. After a few weeks, Mack disappears again, and his body is eventually found on a treacherous mountain range, Ben Alder. What, we are led to wonder, the hell happened?

Then the book launches into a long and rather convoluted autobiography. For, I exaggerate not, 250-275 pages, we hear nothing more about the Devil, and the tension builds and builds as we learn about Gideon Mack’s childhood, his conflict of faith, his hypocritical joining of the clergy, his troubled relationships, &tc. When the critical point of the book occurs, it’s relatively short, and somewhat disappointing.

I’m not going to summarize or otherwise reveal the details, so as not to spoil the book for any who might read it, but rest assured that the whole thing is full of symbols and intrigue. It isn’t lost to me that Gideon Mack metaphorically descends into hell and arises three days later. Neither is the symbology of the Devil, or of Gideon’s constant doubt. The problem is that I’m nowhere close to understanding it all yet: the questions and details are swirling around in my head, trying to form some sort of coherent explanation of what the story means. Perhaps there is no big picture; perhaps there are only minor points: Gideon’s powerful sympathy with the Devil, in this case qua Lonely Soul; the inherent duplicity of religious faith; the struggle to both overcome and preserve the legacy of our parents; the vagaries of love; the list goes on.

This isn’t an uplifting work: it’s murky, in fact, and at times downright depressing. You won’t feel good after reading it, but I heartily suggest you do anyway, because it’s not only brilliantly written, but there’s an amazing depth here, so far rebuffing any attempts to plumb it.

§1868 · July 12, 2007 · Tags: , , , ·

2 Comments to “The Testament of Gideon Mack”

  1. Susie says:

    I thought the book was great, you seem to be missing the point, especially when you say that the book gives no answers, Its a testament of a dead man, exactly how he (Gideon Mack) had written it, put into the book.
    Its not a novel or love story or even a thriller that has been manufactured to make the reader gasp, sigh, laugh or cry.
    For me its one of the best books ive read, Its left me very curious and puzzled, I just wish I could get to know more about this guy, what a great pity he’s dead!!
    Thanks for reading Susie

  2. Ben says:

    My point is that Robertson must be saying something; either that or he really likes his rhetorical modernism.

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