The Testimony is a book that shows the contrasting effect of Religion in our world today. James Smythe has crafted a novel that is both entertaining and insightful as the book weaves through 26 characters and their views on a catastrophic world changing event. Smythe uses his ensemble to show both the passions and pitfalls of faith and whether we should, as an intelligent race, follow blindly or demand proof of what we believe.
The Testimony reads like a television drama in that it brings together a cast of characters both diverse and recognisable to everyday people. The story follows a broadcast that sounds in millions of people’s heads simultaneously around the globe and many go on to believe that they have heard the voice of God. It begins as a burst of static and is proceeded by a cryptic message – “My children. Do not be afraid”. What the people within the pages of The Testimony then experience is something that we could never possibly imagine.
Their role on Earth is now in question. Has God spoken and if it was God, what does that mean for humanity? We see the acts within the book play out as told by these 26 characters that vary from the White House chief of staff to retirees in the suburbs of New York. Then, on our side of the pond, we have members of Parliament and the everyday man. Smythe has tried to capture many differing voices within his work and what comes across is a fantastic piece of drama that shows the fragility of us as a people and our beliefs.
The novel rises and falls like the stereotypical rollercoaster and the plot soon moves beyond The Broadcast and into the fallout of what has occurred. Without wanting to spoil what is truly a brilliant piece of storytelling it isn’t long before warring opinions become warring countries and soon enough there is fallout of other kinds.
The Testimony is a novel that on the face is a piece of genre fiction that is purely meant to entertain but as the reader turns each page and listens to these characters give their tale, it does make you think. We as a society often follow our beliefs blindly but what if they were questioned or even destroyed by the revelation of some proof?
For all its thought provoking notions on Religion there is plenty of grandiose drama and action at its heart. I’m a nail biter and I can safely say that at moments in this book I was curling tighter into a ball and chomping away at my nails as the characters laid forth their story. Is it a conspiracy by the government? Is it a terrorist plot? Is it divine intervention?
We hear from those whose faith is shaken, those that hold power over civilisation, those that want a rational explanation and even those who never heard The Broadcast. It’s in this final group that Smythe throws a curveball and brings forth a few who didn’t hear the voice, that don’t fall to the fates of those who may or may not have heard God. The book contains as many open questions and twists as a modern day TV drama such as LOST or 24 and therein lies much of its appeal.
Part of me laments that Smythe chose to tell his story in an almost documentary style. It has a rather sterile, ‘talking heads’ feel about it. However, it works and it works very well because of that large cast. For instance later in the novel certain characters experience the death of close members of their family and the narrative doesn’t lend as much emotion to those instances as I would have liked. Having said that, there were still moments where I felt an emotional impact, but the whole book could have been – though morbid – a little bleaker.
There’s no doubt that Smythe can tell a story and I can honestly say that despite the minor lack of emotion in the latter half of the book I adored this novel. It’s dramatic and at times funny. It takes the idea of apocalyptic novels and adds a fresh twist that genuinely makes the audience think. In a literary world that is currently obsessed by ‘end of the world’ drama, The Testimony deserves to take a place at the head of the class.
Published by Blue Door. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.