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Please be gentle - I have never reviewed a book before, though I love to read, all manner of books, it just goes to show what a profund impact this book had on me!
**Setting the Scene**
Thousands of years ago following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, followed by the subsequent resurrection where he appears to Mary Magdalene - he requests that she carry on the teachings of "The Way", rather than Peter as history has led us to believe. Persecuted by the Romans Mary Magdalene flees to France where it is said that she has hidden a set of scrolls within the French Pyrenees - the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, something that the Church has denied ever existing.
The Expected One is a story woven around these scrolls, and we are introduced to Maureen Paschal whilst she is researching a book called "HERstory" a re-written account of the women in history as she believes that their story has never been told correctly, she is researching Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem when she enters a shop and is persuaded to try on an ancient ring, which fits perfectly - the shopkeeper then gives the ring to her, refusing payment and uttering the mysterious words "The Expected One has arrived", following on from this Maureen is assaulted by a vivid vision of the crucifixion where she see and feels everything from Mary Magdalenes point of view.
This is a compelling and intriguing start to the book, one which captures your attention. I found this to be especially so having had a catholic upbringing and being fed the idea for so long that Mary Magdalene is a prostitute. The book immediately drew me in and I felt connected with Maureen and wanted to know what was going to happen to her next. A very clever start to the book which introduces enough mystery surrounding the expected one and sets the tone for the flashbacks that occur throughout the novel by giving an "eye-witness" account of the crucifixion.
The story is based around the fact that there are hidden gospels within the French Pyrenees written by the hand of Mary Magdalene at the instruction of Jesus Christ, they will only be revealed to the "Expected One". The Expected One is said to be a direct descendent of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ, and other famous Expected Ones have included Joan of Arc and Anne Boleyn, but yet none have found the gospel of Mary Magdalene, until Maureen Paschal arrives in France.
Shrouded in secrecy and protected by "The society of the Blue Apples" a secret society who protect the expected one as well as the truth of Mary Magdalene and how she was the one to carry on the Church and Jesus' teachings, Maureen discovers the gospels which are then translated and the story of Mary Magdalene, her love for Jesus and her children unfolds. The story seamlessly travels from modern day France through to the build up to the crucifixion and all that follows, challenging some religious beliefs that have been held for millennia, such as the betrayal of Judas for 30 pieces of silver.....but I won't spoil the story!
Whilst all this is happening, we also see the rival society, who believe that John the Baptist was the one true messiah, plague Maureen and her discovery.
A book full of twists and turns, that challenges what you believe. At so many points throughout this book I was throwing it aside and rushing to google to see what the Catholic Church says about the ideas, whether the stories mentioned in the book are controversial and whether Mary Magdalene is still painted as black as she was. It was a book that made me think at every point, and made me question some of my beliefs. Very thought provoking!
Maureen Paschal - the lead character and "The Expected One", Maureen is a fairly soft character that annoyed me at times with her what appeared to be weak approach to life. As the story develops she really comes into her own and you start to root for her, though at points I did think - how stupid can you be?! Don't do that! Which just goes to show that McGowan really draws you in with her characters helping you empathise.
Fr. Peter Healy - Maureens cousin and a catholic priest. A clever way of introducing the Church teachings into the book. The character of Peter is complex and you watch him struggle with his faith throughout, showing him to be human, which in turn makes him imminently likeable!
Berenger Sinclair - the head of the society of Blue Apples. I believed that he was using Maureen for his own gains, he appears mercenary and I didn't like him at the beginning of the book, a few twists and turns later we see Berengers true character and unfold his belief system.
All of McGowans characters are believable, not all of them are likeable which makes for more interesting reading. I empathized with most, and to read the struggles that they go through on a spiritual level really made me believe that I was there.
The interesting claim on this book is that McGowan claims it is based on her life, but told through fiction, similar to what Maureen is doing within the book. McGowan claims to be a direct descendent of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and is telling the truth of the story throughout the book. Some claim she has jumped on the DaVinci code bandwagon; however DaVinci is a dirty word within the book, having believed to be a woman hater and part of the opposite society believing John the Baptist to be the true messiah.
A very thought provoking book, one which had me questioning what I thought I knew, reading up on biblical stories to understand more, looking up what the Church's beliefs are and ultimately being a page turner that I couldn't put down. A different take on the Mary Magdalene story and one that I think has been told brilliantly, I would recommend to anyone, I don't think you need to be a believer to read this!