This is a book I’ve read before, but was inspired to read again after listening to a podcast comedy-dramatization of Adam and Eve and the Fall from Eden. I enjoy novels like this that take a small bit of familiar story and minor characters from a historical text, and spin an entire story and world from that. Along the lines of The Red Tent and The Children of Jocasta.
This novel tells the stories of Cain, Abel, Adam, and Eve in a unique way – backwards. Starting with Cain as an old man, the novel works backwards through Cain’s life post-murder, then Abel’s life from his murder back to his childhood, then Adam’s life as a father, and finally Eve’s life back to their expulsion from Eden. Even though this is a well-known story, Maine manages to bring new dimensions to it by treating the characters as humans, with thoughts and doubts and failings.
Maine is neither preachy nor contemptuous, focusing on the characters instead of the myth or mysticism of the original story. The confusion and suffering of Adam and Eve as they first make their way through the world is made very real through his descriptions. Cain represents the skeptic, critically questioning the origin story in way that most would and do: “This whole story doesn’t make sense! Why would God create a perfect place and then allow the Devil in it, just to trick you? Why tell you not to do something when He could have just removed the tree, and so avoided the problem completely?” Abel, the favoured but doomed second son (well, actually the third), is the goody-two-shoes that put everyone’s teeth on edge with his, “you should”s, insufferably receiving God’s and Eve’s unwavering favour without doing much to earn it. Cain is a bit psychotic, but there is an element of Abel that makes the homicide somewhat justified. Cain and Adam are alike, with the exception of Adam’s devout fate (a trait shared with Abel) as compared to Cain’s critical thinking. As they each grow older, both take note of how there are no people older than them, and they pause to wonder (as most do when considering this origin story), where did all these other people come from?
The writing is fluid – both narrative and descriptive – and the flow backwards maintains some element of suspense despite the familiar characters. I enjoyed this re-reading, and highly recommend the book. Of Maine’s other books that I’ve read (which is most of them), this is my favourite one; his other bible re-tellings (Noah, Samson) are also good.
Fate: will keep for a future re-reading.
1 – a book with a murder
13 – a book set somewhere I’ve never been
20 – a book with a one word title