From its quirky pocket size, that makes the book very portable, to its bible black colour, with gothic lettering the reader knows they are about to read something rather unusual. The title itself teases, the use of Gospel seems to subvert the Christian sense of the word, which involve the teachings of Jesus and his followers but has been it seems appropriated by a character called ‘Trickster’ whose origins are unfamiliar. Throughout, the book is dramatically illustrated with drawings by the artist Alison Gill that reinforce the gothic nature of the work.
The book much like a conventional gospel is divided into chapters. Broadly the piece follows the ambiguous Trickster as he encounters and tries to subvert the story of Jesus. It has the feel of a dramatic monologue and does indeed make an excellent piece of theatre as demonstrated by Charley’s run of one woman shows that bring Trickster and his machinations to life with great effect.
A word should be said about the inclusion of the Christian story throughout the narrative. The writer has an impressive knowledge of the bible. However, I really don’t think it is necessary to have these points of reference to enjoy the text. In a secular society the rise and fall and rise of an extraordinary man resonates with us all and recalls such leaders from Gandhi onwards. Whilst a knowledge of the Christian story adds an extra dimension for the reader, it is not preclusive. This is after all Trickster’s story and the focus really is upon the existence of such meddlesome and amoral beings in our world.
Charley makes it clear in the useful afterward that trickster is not the Christian Devil. He seems though to have a nodding acquaintance with Satan in the tale, and is quite willing to do his bidding, especially in the context of the Jesus’ narrative, where he has a word in Judas’ ear amongst other mischief making. What makes the character so appealing is as The Rolling Stone’s say in Sympathy for the Devil ‘Just what is the nature of your game?’ Certainly, he likes to meddle, to make trouble, to stir things up. He is like a malcontent but with a sense of humour. His aim seems to be to debunk or at least subvert the works of good men.
What makes him such a compelling character is his natural whit, but also the ways in which his efforts to disrupt good are always defeated. Trickster is the anti-hero to the Christ hero, and as with all such dynamics the more he seeks to debunk his enemy, the more good prevails. Yet this is not just a simple tension between good and evil. Trickster is more ambiguous. He at times seems to stand apart from both moralities and represent a very modern cynicism which challenges the nature of Christianity. Indeed, the character is not two dimensional but complex with moments of philosophical reflection and a genuine sadness that he cannot fully commit to being good. In this way he is reminiscent of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
What this gospel does is humanise the Christ figure by use of small vignettes that dramatize the stories very familiar to some of us, for example that of Lazarus. The Trickster’s negative reaction in the face of such miracles and their agenda gives us a fresh perspective on the Jesus story. By challenging the character and motives of Christ, we are given a fresh view on the original gospels. This is not a modern atheistic standpoint, rather that of someone who challenges the modus operandi of Jesus. Moreover, the focus is not about God himself rather that of the role of his son.
We see by the very existence of Trickster and his rationale that in real life there are grey areas. In many ways he resembles those creatures in Hilary Mantel’s novels, who are distinctly uncanny and dark. Trickster seeks to meddle and trick us for his own delight and entertainment. Ironically though, seen through the prism of his jealous eyes, the reader comes to regard the story of Christ in a fresh and favourable light. This is particularly seen in the dramatization of the Jesus’ days in the wilderness where he is shown to be stoic and brave, traits a little lacking today.
The literary devices used by Charley are highly effective. There is much use of alliteration as befits a gospel or narrative poem and is in this way again pays homage to Milton’s Paradise Lost, where his devil has all the best lines too. Internal rhyme ensures the poem flows at a pace as events transpire. The use of humour and wit is excellent and highly enjoyable. There are some fine vignettes as the Trickster interacts with other characters. The dramatization of such figures as Mary’s father enraged at his daughter being knocked up by an angel are playful but also bring out the humanity of the biblical story. Trickster’s tone is by turns deliciously spiteful, self-pitying and jubilant. He uses a combination of demotic language as befits his character but this also this serves to make the original bible story more current and relevant today. This language is blended skilfully with higher case lexis such as ‘piquancy and punch’ that makes the tale fun to read and indeed to listen to and indicates that Trickster has great verbal dexterity and can trick us with his language.
Clearly Charley has an enviable knowledge of the original gospels. But this is Trickster’s gospel and it invites us to look from a different perspective at the nature of good and evil. Similarly, the character serves to reveal our own complex humanity. Trickster is that part of us that wants to be bad, to break rules, to be anti-establishment. But watching his shenanigans against the actions of a thoroughly good man allows us to decide which camp we follow. In fact, Trickster himself on observing Jesus’ sacrifice, comes close to redemption, but in the end, he finds being good too restrictive, no fun and elects to continue meddling on down the ages. Yet by the end of the book there is an indefinable and very subtle sadness about his inability to be virtuous.
In the afterwards by publisher and writer we are informed that Trickster’s role is to meddle. he remains ambivalent in origin which makes him even more intriguing. Whereas Christ through his example of self-sacrifice offers a redemption we must earn, Trickster is all about instant gratification. This is a book that challenges the reader with its suggestion of a chaotic universe where there are more things in Heaven and Hell…. And warns us that wickedness is very real.
Fiona Sinclair 21st October 2019