The Garden of Earthly Delights

Written by Robert Dodds
Review by Irene May

It is 1490. Northern Europe is in the grip of sweeping plagues and religious inquisitions, and in daily terror of the Day of Judgement. In the town of Den Bosch, the artist Jerome (Hieronymus Bosch) paints his visionary denunciation of sin and folly, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, while his neglected wife Aleyt strays into sin herself. But Jerome is not immune from the world he portrays. A rival artist and a corrupt Abbess concoct a hellish plot that threatens to destroy him.”

The back cover blurb sounds intriguing, and I was not disappointed.

Written in present tense, (which is not always to everyone’s taste, but worked well here), Dodds’ portrayal of Bosch is as detailed as the painting the novel is titled for, and the author gives an interesting, convincing and thrillingly entertaining read – although I have no idea how accurate, historically, the events of the book are. Does that matter if the story is a good one?

Explored within the tale is the detailed fifteenth century life in Brabant in the Netherlands, exposing the human failings of guilt and passion while negotiating the horror of religious extremities inflicted by the Church during the Inquisition. There are unexpected twists and turns throughout the novel, resulting in a gripping and absorbing read. I did find one particular anachronism that stood out, but otherwise this occasionally harrowing story is well told. Although sensitive readers should be alerted that the descriptions of torture may not be to all tastes.