The book is Before the Ruins, 2020, by Victoria Gosling.
It’s been a while since I binged a book, but I finished this one in just a few days. It is so well-written that it’s almost like unrhymed poetry. Almost every page has something quotable, even when the quotes are ones I disagree with, like the following …
I remember Peter’s father in the church telling the story of Jesus and Pilate, and jesting Pilate asking Jesus what the truth was but then not staying for an answer, and so we never got to find out, not any of us, not ever. I was so disappointed and on our way back to the vicarage, hell-bent on my share of the roast dinner — chicken, chicken, let it be chicken! — I pestered the vicar, “But why didn’t the disciples ask him instead? There he was on the cross, it’s not like he was going anywhere. Why didn’t they ask him?” With his hand on the gate, he turned. A watery smile. “Sometimes, Andy, I think you are the only one who is listening.” Which, of course, was no answer at all.
Nor was there anything in the Gospels that shed light on what Jesus would have said about [my abuser]. I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible Jesus meeting a truly wicked man.Before the Ruins, p. 114
No, Jesus never met a truly wicked man … except the ones who hunted, slandered, gaslit, and betrayed Him. And then tortured Him to death. Except the majority of people he met. Except those.
He never said anything about child abusers … though there were certain passages about the sea and millstones and whitewashed graves and the fires of hell.
His disciples never asked Him “What is truth?” … except all those times they did, and He said “I am the truth,” and the time Philip said to Him, “Show us the Father,” and Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father.”
It’s interesting, because a big theme of Before the Ruins is how difficult it is to really know people, even people you love very much. And how difficult it is to let people know you, even if you really want to.
When not on the subject of the Gospels, the book has a lot of insight and achingly evocative passages about childhood and growing up. Passages like that will break your heart. Passages like this one:
It made me aware of how dormant I was most of the time. How my life — my job, my screens — made it easy to be occupied every waking moment, hurrying, distracted, and equally, on some level almost entirely asleep, comforted by dreams of effortless transformation.
But I was not Cinderella. Instead, there was another story Peter and I had often found in the books of our childhood. It came in different disguises. It was the one about the traveler who arrives at an island, or a castle, or a secret door into the side of a mountain. There, welcomed, the traveler stays, perhaps against their instincts. Often they eat or drink — strange fruit, or wine from a goblet. There is always something they should be doing, an important task for them to fulfill, but they forget it, they are waylaid, and if they ever remember, their companions, if there are any, distract them with promises, or songs, or riddles to ponder.
Often the traveler sleeps, sometimes they dream, always they are nagged by the sense that there is something they are forgetting, something they must do. Their true love is waiting, or their aged parents. There is a sick child they must bring herbs to, a kingdom for them to inherit. But they do nothing; they are paralyzed. And when they wake, if they ever get away, once back in the world they find that centuries have passed, that they are too late, too late for everything, and that all that they loved, everything that truly mattered, is lost forever.
To sleep on? Or to wake? This was the question facing me. To sleep, or to wake and face the reckoning, to find out what had been lost.Before the Ruins, p. 181