Young shot to fame in 2007 after a book he wrote for his children was picked up by a publisher and became a multi-million-dollar bestseller. That book, of course, was The Shack, now in production as a motion picture. He also published a second book, Crossroads, in 2013, which I have not read.
The Shack is a book that has both enjoyed success and stoked controversy. Many have hailed it a transformative masterpiece for its creative reworking of common misconceptions about the nature and character of God, while others have condemned it as at the very least playing fast and loose with scripture, and at worst embracing outright heresy. (For myself, I found it very helpful in my own journey towards a deeper, richer understanding of God and my faith.) I suspect Eve may meet a similar response.
Eve is a novel, but beyond that it is difficult to categorise. In it, fiction meets both science fantasy and biblical (re-)interpretation. The surface-level story begins with main character Lilly Fields washed up in a shipping container on the shores of a mysterious island somewhere between our world and the next. There are strong hints at a background as a victim of abuse and trafficking – a highly topical subject that is guaranteed to resonate with many readers. While on the island, as well as encountering a number of strange and quirky characters, Lilly will undergo a physical and emotional healing process that will see her witness the Bible’s creation narratives brought to life before her very eyes. Indeed, her own eventual psychological and emotional healing is rooted in the fresh understanding of God and his relationship to his children that she gains from these experiences.
For me, reading Eve was a curious experience. Perhaps the best word I can use to describe it is intriguing. On the (slightly) negative side, I found the narrative and dialogue a little strained and stilted in places, as though the author was sometimes eager to dwell on minutiae while I, the reader, was left waiting impatiently to find out what happens next.
However, there were plenty of positives to offset this niggle. I felt, on the whole, that my interest was held by a sense of journeying into mystery that was sustained throughout the book’s three hundred or so pages. I genuinely wanted to find out what would happen to Lilly, as well as what new light the author might throw on the biblical creation narratives – which, of course, is really the whole point of the book. On that score, I would say that Young manages to challenge a number of entrenched notions around the Fall, original sin (and indeed the very nature of sin) and what it means for human beings to be redeemed and healed.
In my opinion, any attempt to re-envision the meaning and implications of the creation and fall narratives is fraught with dangers, and brave is the writer who attempts such a task. But Young meets the challenge with both creativity and dexterity. For me, his greatest skill in this book perhaps lies in his ability to gently dislodge firmly held ideas about the origins of creation and human identity without once lapsing into dogmatism or parochialism. At the end of the book – which comes with a nice twist – the reader might be left with as many questions as he or she began with. But, given the ironclad certainty in which interpretations of the Bible’s earliest chapters are often encased, this, for me, can only be a good thing. The reader is left not doubting the value of the text, but rather wondering anew about all the rich depth, nuance, beauty and complexity it offers.
Eve may not appeal to those who like every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed, and it might frustrate those who come to it with a predefined theological agenda. However, if you enjoy multi-layered stories that take you on an imaginative journey and encourage you to reconsider key theological ideas from a fresh perspective, it might just be your cup of tea.
Eve is now available in both hardback and Kindle format.
Full disclosure: I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.