The Tongues of Men or Angels

Written by Jonathan Trigell
Review by Sarah Cuthbertson

In this story of Jesus and the rise of Christianity, miracles have down-to-earth explanations and the realities of Roman-occupied Judaea are shown in all their brutality. Jesus/Yeshua is seen mainly through the eyes of others, and Paul/Saul is a major player who for his own reasons develops ‘The Way’ into a universal religion. Trigell’s Paul/Saul is a complex man whose upbringing has given him an unrealistic sense of his own worth. Insulted by his employer, the Jerusalem high priest, and thwarted in his ambitions, he discharges his rage in the persecution of Christians. Then, en route to a mission in Damascus, he has an epileptic episode…

The crucifixion happens in the middle of the novel, and chapters set between thirty-odd years before and fifty years after are scattered with chronological randomness around it. This gradually becomes less confusing, but I’m not persuaded that it improves the story. The characters, however, even lesser ones like ‘Useful’, to whom Paul dictates his letters, and Drusilla, wife of Felix the ex-prefect of Judaea, are brought convincingly to life. And the settings and events are described in such muscular yet sensuous language that you almost feel you’re there.