August 3rd, 2014

Review: The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace

The Book of Heaven
by Patricia Storace

Fleeing Orion the Hunter, the first woman Eve escapes Heaven and, washed away by a river of stars, lands in a new Heaven with unfamiliar constellations. Four of the women behind the constellations greet Eve and share their story with her: Souraya from the Knife constellation, the lady of questions who killed and gave birth; Savour from the Cauldron, the lady of creation who killed and preserved life; Rain from the Paradise Nebula, the lady of suffering who was murdered and lived; and Sheba from the Lovers’ Cluster, the lady of loving who lost and gained everything. Each woman’s story is full of sorrow as she is made to suffer by heavy-handed, religious men for the crime of being born a female, but through this suffering each woman has learned wisdom, which she willingly shares with her sisters in the form of proverbs at the end of each tale.

I'm torn on this novel.

It's written in a very arch, stylized format obviously meant to mimic the beautiful language of holy books like the Bible, but this formalized speech forces the characters to be forever distant. Conversations ring false as women rain platitudes and sacred truths about humanity in every other sentence. These aren't real women, merely archtypes. I'm pretty sure this is what the author was going for, since the book is largely an attempt to create a new women-centric mythology, but as a work of literature it does make the reading difficult because there are no true emotions.

Perhaps I would have liked the book more if it had been a purely new cosmology that Storace created, but with three out of the four stories based on Biblical texts it was impossible to avoid comparing the new tales to the old - and I can't say I cared for the changes. Although the characters are renamed, Souraya’s tale is clearly that of Sarah, wife of Abraham. In this new version, she is murdered by her husband, a violent change to the original story that I found hard to take because it seemed so unnecessary. Storace could have easily gotten her points across without twisting Abraham's character to such a cruel low. Indeed, every story seemed desperate to make the men as wicked and evil as possible, all acting in the name of their monotheistic god to punish and humiliate women. This repetitive theme wore thin quickly and became wearisome.

The best story of the lot was one with no Biblical antecedent. The tale of a cook who was born a slave but gained renowned for her culinary gifts was a beautiful story, and the only one I truly enjoyed. A third tale was advertised as being that of Lot's wife, another Biblical patriarch, but the resulting story about a woman forced to live and work in a brothel by her father and the patriarchal society in which she lived resembles my memory of the Genesis account so little that I honestly don't see the connection. The final story belongs to Sheba, who may or may not be the Queen of Sheba that so captivated King Solomon, but a large portion of her story is devoted to a retelling of the tale of Noah’s ark that, again, paints the patriarch in a negative light while celebrating his wife.

This was an interesting literary experiment, but a book that ultimately didn't work for me.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Book of Heaven, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
2012: Fashionista Piranha on break until August 14th
2011: Bumped by Megan McCafferty
2010: Jeanne Westin, author of His Last Letter
2009: Book Trailer: Sacred Hearts
2008: Contest: Neil Gaiman Extravaganza