I really wanted this book to be something engaging and it just wasn't. We have been fans of Pullman for years, I started reading His Dark Materials to the children on the recommendation of a friend and have loved them ever since, I recall waiting impatiently for the final instalment to be published.
This book is a retelling of the story of Jesus as if he were twins, Jesus being the one going out doing the preaching and the miracles, and Christ observing him from the sidelines and watching and planning for the future. So he retells briefly lots of little incidents that are related in the gospels, and meanwhile Christ is busy writing it all down under the guidance of a mysterious stranger claiming to be an angel. There is only one character really, that is Christ, but I don't get him at all. He is not particularly devious or anything and you get no sense of his motivation. Jesus is just this distant figure in the background, until the very end where we see him in the Garden of Gethsemane basically praying to a god he no longer seems to believe exists, and then Christ himself plays the role of both betrayer and the resurrected Jesus.
I guess it is a neat little critique of how 'the church' has altered and twisted the original message of Jesus and become this monolithic institution that is only interested in perpetuating it's own power and influence. But it doesn't say anything that has not been argued better in other places, and to put it in a novel adds nothing to the debate. He makes little jibes about the virgin birth (having a handsome young man come through the bedroom window claiming to be an angel) and then Christ participating in a 'fake' resurrection, but you are not sure what he is trying to achieve, whether it is a criticism of the Jesus story or of the institution of the church as a whole. I am not sure who the book is aimed at, the writing is a little deadpan and devoid of any real characters. All in all I was very disappointed.