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The Gospel according to Luke is the second novel by Emily Maguire, in which she pits two morally dichotomous characters against each other- a pastor and a sexual health counselor- to generate the universally complex questions of sex, religion, altruism and fanaticism, and whether faith or logic should decide the future an unborn child. But deeper within the narrative is a potent tale of lust, loneliness and tragedy, and the human unquenchable search for love and acceptance.
Luke Butler is the senior pastor at a Christian Youth Centre in Paramatta, and directly across the street is Aggie Grey’s sexual health clinic. These two characters are ideological opposites- Aggie impervious to notions of the intangible; Luke guided solely by faith and scripture. Their initial clash soon becomes a simmering and impossible attraction, which is complicated by Luke’s perception that the misguided Aggie is a “task” set by God himself. Their discordance is further exacerbated when 16 year old Honey turns up at the clinic’s doorstep, pregnant and confused. What binds Luke, Aggie and Honey on a deeper level is their shared history of negligent or absent parentage- Luke an orphan, Honey and Aggie abandoned and tragic. Their resulting individual need for acceptance permeates the entire narrative. Love is the unattainable goal that all three are striving for in strange and unexpected ways- Luke through God, Aggie through her countless failed relationships, and Honey through promiscuity.
Although some of the themes of this book are somewhat hackneyed, and could have been executed clumsily in less capable hands, ‘The Gospel’ is skilfully rendered and makes for compelling reading. Maguire’s writing is effervescent and punchy and she maintains an observant sense of humour throughout the narrative, even when it slides into its most darkest corners. The pace of the narrative is fast and suspense-fueled and there is seldom, if ever, a flat spot. Maguire adroitly deals with many stark antitheses in her themes and characterizations, and also shows the reader the inherent folly in judging her characters too quickly. Pastor Luke is depicted as earnest and idealistic, Aggie jaded and worldly, and Honey as bereft of self esteem. Yet as the story progresses, each emerges to possess surprisingly unpredictable facets to their characters.
One grievance about this novel is that the sex and courting scenes are occasionally awkward and heavy handed, and threaten to push the novel into trashy romance literature territory. Otherwise, Maguire’s dialogue is realistic and masterfully composed. The characters are well developed and much time is dedicated to their respective backgrounds and motivations, and their interaction mostly seems genuine and not contrived. Maguire’s greatest strength is that she never preaches to her audience, instead she gives a bipartisan and sympathetic perspective of all her characters whilst maintaining an informed social commentary.
From the outset The Gospel According to Luke could be viewed as trite and throwaway ‘chicklit’ as its essentially a standard tale of lust and love, but its somewhat sophisticated and absorbing story will keep the discerning or even occasional reader entertained and eagerly turning its pages.