So, biblical fiction that tells the untold story of women, is my kink. I love it. And The Book of Rachael by Leslie Cannold certainly delivered.
The best thing about Cannold's book is not that she gives name and voice to the women of the Bible but that there's such a profound believability to them. Her women are flawed, deeply so, just like real women. Each suffering their own weakness, each revelling in their own strengths, each woman unique and though bound by the constraints of their time and gender each one defies these ties in her own way.
The adage that well behaved women never make history is certainly true in biblical terms. One flick through the bible shows that very few "good" woman are named. Very few Good women are given voice with the most notable exceptions of Ruth and the idealised woman from Proverbs 31. There are more minor players, but the most infamous women of the bible are the naughty ones.
History also shows us that there are always defiant women. Whether we record their defiance for prosperity or not. In Rachael's case, she did not bring down a judge of Israel or slaughter a band of men in their sleep,(and so evaded the history books) but she rejected the nominal place of women and girls over and over again, much to the chagrin of her mother, the haughty wonderfully arrogant Miriame. (And blessedly Cannold chose to leave out the virgin birth...Miriame, better known to us as Mary has her own secrets to which Rachael cannot guess. And so the very things that would have you condemn her, redeem her in the end.)
Cannold really portrayed the mother/daughter friction perfectly. Your heart would break for little Rachael.
The sister bond was treated with an equal amount of attention to reality. Parts of the story will make you hurt. Will make you angry. Will make you despair.
Cannolds writing is anything but flowery or over reaching as is shown in her ability to convey the emotion without attempting to overwhelm us with prose, unlike Anita Diamant in The Red Tent. A book I also loved though in the case of The Red Tent it was purely for the relationships between the various women, not the writing itself.
The tender sub-story of Joshua, as seen through the eyes of his sister, is touching and beautifully done. Cannold wisely focused on Joshua as brother, son and lover, rather than as the Messiah. As such, she was able to breathe into him a real soul. A man far more believable and probable than the man proffered up for us in the bible.
And though the book focuses on the untold story of women, Cannold has not treated the men as shadows. Her supporting cast have dimension. Gentle yet commanding Joseph, brave and brash Judah and the somewhat snivelling Jacob.
Unsurprisingly, the strengths in Cannolds tale lie in her ability to weave her non-fiction expertise ( she has two other non-fiction books The Abortion Myth and What, no baby?, is an ethicist, President of Reproductive Choice Australia, Ambassador for dying with dignity law reform among other things...) into the threads of her fiction. The grown up Rachael is mistress of her own destiny, as much as a woman could be in that day and age. As apprentice to the mystical crone Bindy, Rachael learns how to control her fertility, she learns how to heal and how to comfort when the body is beyond all healing. Through Bindy she learns who she is and that who she thought she was may not actually be who she wanted to be.
At it's very heart, the Book of Rachael is the story of women in general, it spans the years, for just like Rachael did all those years ago, we still struggle to fight for the right to complete autonomy over our own bodies and the right to pursue and define our own destinies, whatever they may be and in this way Rachael's story is our own story.