Revelations is the story of the 15th-century English visionary and traveler Margery Kempe. The novel is based on her real life, as recorded in the Book of Margery Kempe, which she dictated to a priest who recorded it. From a mercantile family, Margery marries, bears fourteen children, starts her own business, and endures her husband’s abuse, before having visions of Christ that push her to consult Julian of Norwich and travel on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She returns to England to find that she is a pariah, which leads her to another pilgrimage to Spain. Finally, she is tried for heresy, specifically Lollardry, which encouraged women to preach.
The historical research necessary to write such a novel is weighty and commendable. The 15th century is not a particularly popular time period for historical novels, and figures such as Kempe and Julian of Norwich do not get much attention, even though they are truly fascinating.
The story does not, however, have much plot, since the book mostly follows Kempe’s travels (“I went here, then there”). The travel to Spain feels anticlimactic, since it occurs after the much longer and more dangerous pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Plus, as a reader, I never felt or saw or sensed Margery’s visions. They feel rote and flat, when in reality visions like these would have been far from flat (see Julian of Norwich’s Revelations, Marguerite Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls).
Finally, the publisher has made the puzzling decision to advertise the book as a “fifteenth-century Eat, Pray, Love,” which diminishes the revolutionary character of Margery and Julian’s decisions and actions.